Imran Khan: Man of the Hour

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Imran Khan: New Trouble Man for US in Pakistan The PTI leader criticized not only President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif but also blasted US policies in the biggest-ever show of political power in Lahore in the past 25 years

By Hamid Mir

2011-10-30T180751Z_1187942809_GM1E7AV062Z01_RTRMADP_3_PAKISTAN

Imran Khan gestures after arriving to lead the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) rally in Lahore October 30, 2011.    

REUTERS/Raza

ISLAMABAD — Imran Khan is no more a cricketer turned politician. He has suddenly become an important regional player in the US endgame in Afghanistan.

A mind-blowing public rally of Imran Khan in Lahore on October 30 made it very difficult for the Zardari regime to give new commitments or accept any demands from the US to push its decade-long war against terror. Imran Khan has not only become a threat for traditional political parties inside Pakistan but is also going to become a big hurdle in the implementation of demands made by US during the recent visit of Hillary Clinton to Islamabad.

The PTI leader criticised not only President Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif but also blasted US policies in the biggest-ever show of political power in Lahore in the past 25 years. The last time Lahore saw this kind of political tsunami was on April 10, 1986 when late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned after many years in exile. A big reception to the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a bombshell for the then military dictator. Benazir Bhutto addressed a big rally in Iqbal Park, adjacent to the historical Lahore Fort. That rally was the beginning of General Zia’s end.

The October 30 rally by Imran Khan in the same Iqbal Park also looked like an end of pro-US policies started by General Pervez Musharraf ten years ago. Imran addressed US Secretary of State as “Chachi Clinton”

(Aunty Clinton) and said a big no to any more army operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas. It will now be impossible for the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and its coalition partners to start new operations in North Waziristan or even continue the old operations from South Waziristan to Khyber Agency. Elections are close and no political government can take the risk of going against public opinion.

Hillary Clinton is these days desperately looking for someone who can become a bridge between Afghan Taliban and the US. Imran Khan can make some serious efforts in this regard but is more focused on the situation inside Pakistan. He has offered his services for the engagement of Pakistani Taliban but wants assurances that there will be no more military operations.

Imran said all this just one day before the meeting of President Asif Ali Zardari with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Istanbul. The US has arranged this meeting through Turkish President Abdullah Gull for the success of the Istanbul conference. Army Chief General Kayani also left for Turkey on Monday. Afghan officials will discuss the US endgame with Pakistan, India, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, UAE, Turkey, US and UK in Istanbul Conference from November 1.

The US wants some commitments from Pakistan at this conference and that is why the Pakistani Army Chief is also invited to this conference.

However, Imran Khan’s massive anti-American rally has made it very difficult for Pakistani leaders to oblige their friends from Saudi Arabia and Turkey who have became part of the process on the US request.

Imran criticized the Army operations in the tribal areas in very strong words. He clearly said some tribal elders had given him assurances that if US drone attacks were stopped and the Pakistan Army halted operations in the tribal areas they would control all militants. Imran Khan also arranged meetings of these tribal elders (mostly from North Waziristan) with his ex-wife Jemima Khan who is making a documentary against drone attacks.

Jemima and Imran are separated but often meet because of their two sons. An American lawyer Clive Smith is also helping Jemima and they are planning a big campaign against drone attacks in the Western media.

Jemima writes for Vanity Fair magazine. She is helping not only Imran but also Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, and Assange may also speak at the inauguration of documentary against drone attacks. The documentary is expected to have a lot of “WikiLeaks”. Imran Khan has repeatedly said, “Pakistan has changed”. He threatened, “I will not spare anyone who gave Pakistani bases to US and sold my people for dollars.”

Without naming Pervez Musharraf he sent him a message not to come back to Pakistan. He also said: “We want friendly relations with every country but we cannot accept slavery of America”. Imran Khan came out openly in support of the Kashmiris and advised India to withdraw its troops from Kashmir.

He tried to satisfy the central Punjab voters who are not happy with the soft stance of Zardari and Nawaz Sharif on India. This hawkish stance will definitely bring him closer to the military establishment but he opposes military action in Balochistan. He also criticized the role of Pakistan Army in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in his recently published book “Pakistan a Personal History.”

According to the sources in Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) more than a dozen ambassadors from different Western countries wanted to see Imran Khan this week but he left for China immediately after addressing the mammoth public rally in Lahore on Sunday night. He will be a guest of the Chinese government. His opponents often declared him “Taliban Khan” or the “modern face of Jamat-i-Islami” but hundreds of thousands of people enjoyed the songs of many popular singers in the Lahore rally.

For some critics it became a grand musical show but the fact is that the crowd enjoyed the music at a public place after a very long time.

Pakistan has many popular pop singers but they cannot sing at public places due to fear of suicide bombings that started in 2007. There was a suicide attack on the musical show of Sono Nagam sometime back in Karachi and after that many pop singers were threatened not to sing at public places. Many singers like Adnan Sami, Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar tried their luck in India in recent years but now they can come back.

Imran Khan is bringing back not only the political activities on the roads but also encouraging many pop singers like Shehzad Roy to sing publicly who made songs against drone attacks. Roy presented his famous song ‘uth bandh kamar kya darta hey phir dekh Khuda kya karta hey” in the Sunday rally. Thousands of youngsters were dancing on this song and Imran was clapping with them.

Imran Khan is becoming the voice of the common Pakistanis who are neither religious extremists nor secular fascists. He is becoming a ray of hope for those disgruntled youngsters who have started hating democracy due to bad governance and corruption. These youngsters can now bring about a change in Pakistan through their vote power. Youth is the real power of Imran Khan and this youth belongs to the lower middle, middle class. This is the most disillusioned class in Pakistan but now the youth of this class is becoming active, which is a positive sign.

Dozens of sitting parliamentarians are contacting Imran Khan for joining his PTI. Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and many political big shots will make some shocking decisions soon but Imran is more interested in young blood and well-educated minds.

He warned the government on Sunday that all politicians must declare their assets inside and outside Pakistan within a few months failing which his party would launch a civil disobedience movement and block all major cities with public support. For many analysts he is emerging as the third option after Zardaris’s PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N.

Some say he will ruin Nawaz Sharif in the central Punjab and PPP would be the ultimate beneficiary. Imran does not agree with this analysis.

He always criticizes PPP and PML-N jointly because one is ruling at the center and the other is ruling Punjab, which is more than 60 percent of Pakistan. Imran has definitely proved that he enjoys more political support in Lahore than Nawaz Sharif but it does not mean that he is going to get clear majority in the coming elections. He needs some winning horses not only in the central Punjab but also in south Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and Sindh.

He needs big rallies in Faisalabad, Multan, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta and then he can make some bigger claims. He will definitely make dents not only in the vote bank of PML-N but will also damage the PPP badly. There are 25 seats of national assembly in Lahore division of which PML-N has 20, PPP has 3 and PML-Q has one. Imran may snatch at least half of the PML-N and all the seats won by PPP and PML-Q in Lahore. Out of 23 seats in Gujranwala division PML-N has 13, PPP 8 and PML-Q has 2. Imran will damage PPP and PML-Q more than PML-N in Gujranwala. There are 20 seats in Faisalabad division – PML-N has only 4 while PML-Q has 8 and PPP has 7 seats.

Many sitting members of the national assembly from Faisalabad are pleading to Imran to accept them in his party. Some PPP, PML-Q and ANP members from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also in contact with Imran, which means that his popularity is not confined to Punjab.

His biggest stronghold in the north is the tribal area where he is expected to make a clean sweep and more than 10 seats are in his pocket. This is the same area where he will not allow government to start any new Army operations.

If there is no operation then what will be the future of Pakistan-US relations? Zardari regime is at the crossroads. There is US pressure from one side and the PTI pressure from the other.

Nawaz Sharif was trying to play safe by targeting only Zardari and not the US but Imran Khan has suddenly changed the political dynamics in Pakistan. He is the new trouble man for US and also for the pro-US political elite in Pakistan. All the popular parties have no option other than to follow his anti-Americanism.

Hillary Clinton needs to realize the wave of change in Pakistani politics. She cannot understand this change without engaging Imran Khan. October 30 was just a beginning. World will see more changes on the political map of Pakistan and Imran Khan will play a leading role.

The News (Pakistan)

13-46

Hillary Clinton Speaks at Eid ul-Fitr Reception

September 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Hillary Clinton

Ben Franklin Room

2011-09-01T141308Z_1393267109_GM1E7911PY301_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA-CONFERENCE

File: Hillary Clinton in Paris September 1, 2011.

REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Thank you, Farah.  Thank you.  Well, I am a wannabe athlete – (laughter) – and I have absolutely no claim to being anything other than that, but I am delighted that this evening we are going to be honoring some young people who truly are athletes and who are carving their own futures in the history of our country.

So good evening everyone.  Eid Mubarak.  And thank you, Farah, for your tireless efforts on behalf of the work that brings you not only to this podium but around the world.

It is a delight to see so many ambassadors from countries that I have visited and know well and to see many familiar faces here again, particularly some of the youth leaders that we honored at our last Iftar dinner.  The problem with Ramadan in August is it was impossible, and so we thought, well, it’s September but we’re going forward.  And so I thank you for your understanding and your being here once again.

Now, I’m told that there are two members of Congress with us, Representatives Keith Ellison and Sheila Jackson Lee, and I send a special word of welcome to them.

As Farah said, you can see through the lobby and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms some of our history of presidents affirming America’s respect for Muslims and Islam dating back to Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.  And we celebrate that history, and particularly today we wanted to celebrate sports and athletic competition.  Whether it be the Olympics or the World Cup, the human drive to run faster and climb higher is universal, and universally celebrated.  And it’s also a way by which talent rises to the top, ability is what matters, and people are treated equally.

And that’s part of the reason the State Department sponsors sports exchange programs and sends sports ambassadors around the world.  And for all the athletes joining us this evening, you may never have thought of yourself exactly as a role model, but you are.  And you are not only to the students that some of you visited earlier today, but to so many beyond.  And all Americans take pride in your achievements.

Now, we have some household names as well as some who will be household names.  World champion boxer Amir Khan flew all the way from London to be part of this celebration.  Where is Mr. Khan?  Thank you so much for coming.  (Applause.)

We also have a number of women athletes who are here.  When Ibtihaj Muhammad fences in her hijab, when she trains 30 hours each week without missing a prayer, she’s thinking about winning and she’s thinking about the London Olympics next year.  Where is Ms. Muhammad? 

Where is she?  Right there.  (Applause.)  But I think it’s fair to say that, as her mother has said, many people feel pride and recognize that she is representing more than just herself in her endeavors.
Now, not everybody will go to the Olympics, but even weekend warriors can get some satisfaction out of this.  And I hope many of you were able to watch the new documentary we screened earlier.  And we are joined by the coach and four members of the Fordson Tractors  from Dearborn, Michigan, as well as the filmmakers.  Where are all of them? 

That was such a great documentary and a great story.  (Applause.)

And I hope everybody gets a chance to meet our athletes here tonight, but that film highlighted the exceptional circumstances that the team faced, that they wanted to train hard and stay healthy while keeping the requirements of Ramadan.  And so like every other high school team, they geared up for football practice in August this year with two-a-day practices, except they took the field at 11:00 p.m. and finished around 4:00.  And that takes special dedication, special dedication to both your sport and your faith.

But what stood out to me is how familiar the team and the players ultimately are.  The image of the pregame huddle and prayer could’ve been filmed at any high school in America.  Shoulder pads and helmets crowded the locker room, and big-game nerves were somewhat evident on your faces, I have to confess.  But despite the extra burdens they carried, at the end of it, it was Friday night football for a team of champions.

Now, we can’t pretend that there have not been difficulties and division.  In fact, the Fordson documentary tells the story of the religious tensions in Dearborn, Michigan.  But the power of America has always been anchored in our ability to come together and move forward as one nation.

This weekend, we will mark the 10th anniversary of September 11th.  And we all lost something that day.  In the ashes and the aftermaths, we knew that we had lost Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, men, women, young, old.  And a decade later, that unity that we felt must continue to inspire and guide us.

I’m very proud that in our country, despite the challenges, we do honor the freedom of religion.  Too many countries in the world today do not, or they make it difficult and even dangerous for people to try to exercise their religion.  So as difficult as it may be, the fact that we get up every day and keep trying is a real tribute to all of us.  So at this time of celebration and reflection, and as we mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a new year of renewal and possibility, I hope we can recommit ourselves to the common cause of spreading peace, prosperity, understanding to all the people of the earth.

Now I wanted to introduce two of our athletes so that you could hear  from them directly.  Ephraim Salaam has played in the NFL for over a decade, but some of you may know him best for his memorable Super Bowl commercial last year.  (Laughter.)  And Kulsoom Abdullah is a weightlifter, forging the way for Muslim women athletes to maintain their freedom of expression and still compete at the highest level. 

Please join me in welcoming first Ephraim and then Kulsoom.

(Applause.)

13-38

Foreign Policy: Why Can’t the Syrian Opposition Get Along?

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kate Seeyle

Kate Seelye is Vice President of the Middle East Institute. Prior to joining MEI, she worked as a radio and television journalist covering the Arab world from her base in Beirut, Lebanon.

The buoyant images of Libya’s rebels, who are currently tearing down the last vestiges of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, have also underscored the challenges facing the fragmented opposition in another Arab country — Syria. Five months after the start of an uprising against President Bashar Assad that has left more than 2,200 people dead, dissidents are still struggling to forge a united front that could duplicate the role played by Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC).

The TNC was created just 12 days after the start of the Libyan uprising, quickly organizing resistance to Gadhafi within the country and lobbying for support on the international stage. By contrast, the opponents of Assad’s regime have held gatherings in Antalya, Turkey; Brussels; Istanbul; and even Damascus, the Syrian capital, to shape the opposition’s leadership and articulate a road map toward a democratic Syria. But as of yet, Syrian activists in the diaspora have failed to establish an umbrella group that has earned the endorsement of the only body that can confer legitimacy — the protest organizers inside Syria.

Although Assad’s brutal crackdown has undoubtedly made this a difficult task, the absence of a united front has hindered the opposition’s ability to effectively communicate to regime-change skeptics that there is a credible alternative to the Assad government.
The disarray in the anti-Assad camp is recognized all too well in Washington. “I think the [international] pressure requires an organized opposition, and there isn’t one,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when asked on Aug. 11 why the United States didn’t throw more weight behind the protest movement. “There’s no address for the opposition. There is no place that any of us who wish to assist can go.”
Given the lack of a recognized leadership, different Syrian groups — mainly based in the diaspora — have been jockeying to assert themselves. Most recently, on Aug. 29 young dissidents speaking on behalf of a revolutionary youth group inside Syria named a 94-person council to represent the Syrian opposition. At a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, Syrian dissident Ziyaeddin Dolmus announced that the respected Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun would head the so-called Syrian National Council, which would also comprise the crème de la crème of Syria’s traditional opposition.

Dolmus said the council would include many of the traditional opposition figures based in Damascus, such as former parliamentarian Riad Seif, activist Suhair Atassi, and economist Aref Dalila. “Delays [in forming a council] return our people to bloodshed,” he said at the news conference, which was broadcast by Al-Jazeera.
But no sooner had the council been announced than it started to unravel. When contacted by the media, Ghalioun and the others quickly distanced themselves from the announcement, claiming they had no prior knowledge of it, according to reports in the Arabic press. Later, Ghalioun denied any association with the group on his Facebook page.
One Washington-based Syrian activist, Mohammad al-Abdallah — whose father, Ali al-Abdallah was named to the council — dismissed it as a joke.
Others said it was an attempt by young revolutionaries, upset over the lack of progress, to put forward a wish list of opposition members.
U.S.-based Syrian activist Yaser Tabbara, who had helped organize a gathering of anti-government Syrians a week before in Istanbul, called it “an earnest attempt by youth to reach out and demand that we move faster than we have been.”
According to Tabbara, the Istanbul conference that concluded on Aug. 23, was motivated by a similar sense of urgency. “It has been five months since the uprising started, and we don’t yet have a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Assad and his cohorts for their massacres,” said Tabbara. “Part of the reason is that some in the international community, like India, Brazil, and South Africa, do not see a viable alternative to this regime.”
The four-day Istanbul gathering, according to organizers, sought to unite all the efforts of previous opposition efforts under one banner.
Few of the groups or individuals from previous opposition gatherings attended the meeting, however. Members representing a consultative committee that emerged from a June opposition gathering in Antalya withdrew at the last minute, claiming, according to Reuters, that it “did not build on earlier efforts to unite the opposition.”
The conference was further handicapped by what Syrian journalist Tammam al-Barazi called “the perception that it was held under an American umbrella.” Its organizers included members of a grassroots community group based in Illinois, the Syrian American Council.
Although dismaying, the opposition’s divisions and sniping are hardly surprising. Most activists grew up under the Assad family’s authoritarian rule, and their differences reflect the many divisions inside Syrian society, which is split by sect and ethnicity as well as ideology. The opposition includes Arab nationalists and liberals with little trust for the Muslim Brotherhood, whose supporters were accused of dominating the first Istanbul conference organized in July by a leading human rights lawyer, Haitham al-Maleh.

OIC Pledges $350 Million to Somalia at Turkey Summit

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ibon Villelabeitia

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – ISTANBUL, Aug 17 (Reuters) – The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries have pledged $350 million in aid to fight famine in Somalia at an emergency summit in Istanbul, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said Wednesday.

With some 3.7 million Somalis at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa country, Ihsanoglu said he hoped the aid would soon reach $500 million and urged donors to improve drought-stricken Somalia’s long-term food security by helping it rebuild infrastructure and agriculture.

“All in all we have secured $350 million in pledges. We hope to raise the commitments to $500 million in a very short time,” he told a news conference after the summit, held in Turkey’s commercial capital during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan appealed for aid for Somalia, criticizing millionaires who drive luxury cars and the “Western world’s” arrogance for ignoring the plight of the poor.

In a speech sprinkled with references to Islamic piety and criticism of Western capitalism, Erdogan said the Somali famine was “a litmus test” not only for Muslims but for all humanity.

“If you ride a luxury car you should be generous enough to people who are struggling with hunger,” he told foreign ministers from the 57-nation OIC at an emergency summit in Istanbul to galvanize support for Somalia and neighboring regions also hit by drought.

“I hope the efforts (of the OIC) will mobilize the sleeping consciences. We hope the Western world, which likes to boast about its per capita income, shows its support for Somalia.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week her country would give an extra $17 million to combat famine in the Horn of Africa, including $12 million to help Somalis — bringing total U.S. humanitarian aid to the region to more than $580 million this year.

The OIC recently changed its name from Organization of the Islamic Conference to Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said his country was unable to raise enough food and cattle, and faced militant attacks. The worst-hit areas are controlled by al Shabaab militants, who have prevented aid from getting to people.

The rebels, who have waged a four-year insurgency against Somalia’s Western-backed government, withdrew from Mogadishu earlier this month, opening the way for life-saving food aid but also raising the risk of insurgency attacks.

TURKEY IN AFRICA

Muslim Turkey, a rapidly growing economy and multi-party democracy that has applied to join the European Union, is widely regarded as a model for Muslim and other developing countries.

The OIC summit offered Turkey a chance to showcase its commitment to Africa when other emerging powers are scrambling for trade and investments in the resource-rich continent.

Erdogan, a pious Muslim who fasts during Ramadan, used his 30-minute speech to burnish his image as a hero among many Muslims, a status he has gained for his criticism of Israel and his support for Palestinian statehood.

“What can we say to people on the other side, making trillions of dollars, capitalizing on others? What kind of civilization is this?” he said, raising his voice at times.

“We come from the community of the Prophet, who says you cannot sleep peacefully if your neighbor is hungry. The Somali people are looking at us. Can we turn our gaze away?”

Erdogan will travel to Somalia Thursday with his family. He plans to visit relief camps and will be joined by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his family.

Visits by foreign dignitaries are extremely rare in Somalia, plagued by war and anarchy for the last two decades.

Turkey lags other emerging powerhouses such as China, Brazil and India in the race for new markets in Africa, but under Erdogan’s AK Party government, Turkey has boosted trade with the continent and opened several new embassies there.

Davutoglu later heads to South Africa and Ethiopia as part of an African tour aimed at raising Turkey’s diplomatic presence in the continent and expanding business ties.

Erdogan said Turkey would open six field hospitals in Somalia and send 20 tonnes of medication and 10 tonnes of food.

(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

13-34

Assad: Syria Won’t Stop Fight

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday his forces would continue to pursue “terrorist groups” after Turkey pressed him to end a military assault aimed at crushing protests against his rule.

Syria “will not relent in pursuing the terrorist groups in order to protect the stability of the country and the security of the citizens,” state news agency SANA quoted Assad as telling Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“But (Syria) is also determined to continue reforms … and is open to any help offered by friendly and brotherly states.”

While the two men held talks in Damascus, Syrian forces killed at least 30 people and moved into a town near the Turkish border, an activist group said.

The National Organization for Human Rights said most of the fatalities occurred when troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles overran villages north of Hama, while four were killed in Binnish, 30 km (20 miles) from the border with Turkey.

Washington expressed disappointment at Assad’s latest comments and said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expected to talk to Davutoglu after his meetings in Syria.

“It is deeply regrettable that President Assad does not seem to be hearing the increasingly loud voice of the international community,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters when asked about the comment.

She refused to comment directly on a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable quoted by McClatchy newspapers last week describing Assad in unflattering terms, calling him “neither as shrewd nor as long-winded as his father” (former president Hafez al-Assad).

Despite the growing international condemnation, including a sudden wave of Arab criticism, Assad’s forces pursued an offensive in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, residents said.

Activists say at least 1,600 civilians have died since the uprising against Assad erupted in March, making it one of the bloodiest of the upheavals sweeping the Arab world.

Davutoglu held six hours of meetings with Syrian officials, including a two-hour session alone with Assad.

He told reporters on his return to Ankara that Turkey had demanded Damascus stop killing civilians and said his government would maintain contacts with all parts of Syrian society.

Davutoglu said Turkey hoped for a peaceful transition in Syria resulting in the Syrian people deciding their own future.

Neighboring Turkey has grown increasingly critical of the violence but earned a sharp rebuke on Sunday when an Assad adviser said Syria would not accept interference in its affairs.

Syria has faced nearly five months of protests against Assad’s 11-year rule, inspired by Arab revolts which overthrew leaders in Egypt and Tunisia earlier this year.

Last week Assad sent troops and tanks to quell the mostly Sunni Muslim city of Hama in central Syria and the army launched a similar assault on Sunday against Deir al-Zor.

An armored column also pushed toward the center of the city on Tuesday, with troops storming houses and making arrests in the provincial capital of an oil region bordering Iraq’s Sunni heartland, a resident said.

“They are now about one kilometer from downtown. When they finish with one district, they move to another,” said the resident, who gave his name as Iyad.

Increasing the pressure on Assad, Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia issued a blunt warning that he risked turmoil unless he stopped the bloodshed and adopted reforms.

Kuwait and Bahrain followed the kingdom in recalling their ambassadors.

The withdrawal of envoys left Assad with few diplomatic friends bar Iran. Western states have imposed sanctions on his top officials, while states with close ties to Damascus such as Russia and Turkey have warned Assad he is running out of time.

Nevertheless, no country has proposed military action such as that launched against Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi.

ASSAULT

In Deir al-Zor, a resident said on Monday 65 people had been killed since tanks and armored vehicles barreled into the city, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Damascus on Sunday.

The British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said among the dead were a mother and her two children, an elderly woman and a girl. Syria has expelled most independent media since the revolt began, making it hard to confirm accounts.

Syrian authorities have denied that any Deir al-Zor assault took place. They say they have faced attacks since the protests erupted in March, blaming armed saboteurs for civilian deaths and accusing them of killing 500 security personnel.

State television broadcast footage on Sunday of mutilated bodies floating in the Orontes river in Hama, saying 17 police had been ambushed and killed in the central Syrian city.

The official SANA news agency said on Monday the military was starting to pull out of Hama after it said they had helped restore order. Residents said there were still tanks in parts of the city and security forces were making arrests.

About 1,500 people were detained in Hama’s Jarajima district and troops killed three civilians, the Observatory said.

Activists say at least 130 people were killed in Hama, where Assad’s father crushed an armed Islamist uprising in 1982, and one group has put the death toll at over 300.

Like most of Syria, ruled by Assad’s minority Alawite family, Hama and Deir al-Zor are mainly Sunni cities, and the crackdowns there resonate with Sunnis, who form the majority in the region and govern most Arab countries.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut and Ankara bureau; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Gareth Jones)

13-33

Back to 1967 Borders?

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

67 Borders Central in Mideast Talks Restart Effort

By Nicole Gaouette and Bill Varner -

3207995924_5cdd1ac332_zPresident Barack Obama’s proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by starting with the 1967 borders will likely be adopted by the international group trying to find a peace agreement.

The meeting today in Washington by the “Quartet” — the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — has taken on added urgency as Palestinians plan to ask the UN to recognize their state in a September vote. Israel and the U.S. oppose the move, which would raise political and legal questions.

Before going into the talks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a warning to Palestinians about their UN ambitions and repeated her assertion that talks were the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

“What we strongly advocate is a return to negotiations,” Clinton said. “A resolution, a statement, an assertion is not an agreement. The path to two states lying side by side in peace lies in negotiation.”
The French foreign ministry said the Quartet meeting represents “one of the last chances to lay the necessary groundwork to resume negotiations and avoid a diplomatic confrontation in September,” according to a statement released Friday.

“They want to restart negotiations on the basis of Obama’s speech and the 1967 borders and use that as a way to convince the Palestinians not to go to the UN in September,” said Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister of Jordan and vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “The chances of that are very slim,” he said in a telephone interview.

Clinton was to host the Quartet at the State Department, meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton and Quartet representative Tony Blair over a working dinner.

The Obama administration restarted talks between the parties in September with the goal of reaching agreement on core issues a year later — a deadline now just weeks away. The talks quickly stalled.

In a May speech, Obama called for an agreement that would establish a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines” that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem in the Six-Day War with Arab nations.

The president said Israel’s security should be ensured before other core issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem, are settled. And he proposed that Israel retain major settlement blocs in return for granting offsetting land to Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said immediately after the speech that the 1967 borders would be “indefensible” and leave major Jewish population centers behind Palestinian lines.

In the months since, U.S. envoys have repeatedly urged both sides to consider the president’s proposal, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

The U.S. feels that “going to the United Nations is not helpful, it will not achieve the goal of a lasting peace of two states living side by side” and it “could be detrimental to our goal to get the parties back together,” Nuland said at a July 8 briefing.

Palestinians decided to seek recognition at the UN because they have given up on negotiating a peace agreement with Israel, senior negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh said June 16.

As the vote has come closer, Palestinians have begun to reconsider the effectiveness of their UN plan, said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington-based group that advocates for a peaceful solution to the Mideast conflict.

“It’s become in so many ways a less attractive proposition than it was a few months ago,” Ibish said in a telephone interview. Palestinian leaders “feel that politically they have to act,” he said, as negotiations have gotten them nowhere and the Palestinian public watches protest movements lead to political change across the Arab world.

Muasher was among several analysts who said that the September vote might trigger Palestinians to take to their streets “if it becomes clear this is just a vote on paper and doesn’t result in a Palestinian state on the ground.”

“Time is running out for the parties involved, the Quartet, Israel, the PLO, to find a way out of any kind of damaging confrontation at the UN in September. That is not in anyone’s interest,” Ibish said.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview that he hoped something “meaningful comes out the Quartet meeting, in the form of parameters that would include the ideas in the speech of President Barack Obama.”

Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said both Israelis and Palestinians have an interest in returning to talks. Danin, a former head of office for Quartet representative Blair, has also worked on Israeli- Palestinian issues for both the State Department and the White House. “Netanyahu sees an Israel that is increasingly isolated and a pariah,” Danin said. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “has an administration in the U.S. that seems more well-disposed to Palestinian positions and concerns than they’ve seen in the past, and he recognizes that without a negotiating process, he’s not going to gain anything.”

Another former U.S. diplomat with long experience in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations said restarting the talks wasn’t likely. “The gaps are too big. The suspicions are too great. The motivations of everyone are too questioned by the other,” said Aaron David Miller, a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

13-32

Clinton Backs Saudi Drivers

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrew Quinn

2011-06-22T173003Z_1967305151_GM1E76N047F01_RTRMADP_3_SAUDI-DRIVING

Azza Al Shmasani alights from her car after driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh June 22, 2011. Saudi Arabia has no formal ban on women driving. But as citizens must use only Saudi-issued licences in the country, and as these are issued only to men, women drivers are anathema.

REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday praised “brave” Saudi women demanding the right to drive, but she tried to avoid an open breach with a close U.S. ally by saying the Saudis themselves should determine the way forward.

The Saudi driving ban has been publicly challenged in recent weeks by women who have risked arrest to get behind the wheel. Clinton, one of the world’s best-known advocates for women’s rights, has come under mounting pressure to take a stand.

“What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it and I support them,” Clinton said in her first public comments on the issue.

Clinton’s carefully phrased remarks appeared to be an attempt to balance her deep-held beliefs with the need to keep smooth relations with Riyadh in an era of huge political changes sweeping the Middle East and concern about oil supplies.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have seen their traditionally close ties strained in recent months as popular protests erupted in a number of Arab countries including Bahrain, where Saudi security forces were called in to restore order.

Prior to her remarks, the State Department had said that Clinton was engaged in “quiet diplomacy” on the driving ban — drawing a fresh appeal from one Saudi women’s group for a more forceful U.S. stance.

“Secretary Clinton: quiet diplomacy is not what we need right now. What we need is for you, personally, to make a strong, simple and public statement supporting our right to drive,” the group, Saudi Women for Driving, said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

Clinton did just that on Tuesday, although she repeatedly added the caveat that the issue was an internal matter for Saudi Arabia to sort out.

“This is not about the United States, it is not about what any of us on the outside say. It is about the women themselves and their right to raise their concerns with their own government,” she said.

Clinton raised the issue in a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Friday and said the United States would continue to support full universal rights for women around the world.

Clinton said mobility was important for women to both find jobs and help care for their families.

“We will continue in private and in public to urge all governments to address issues of discrimination and to ensure that women have the equal opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potential,” she said.

Saudi Arabia — a key U.S. security ally and important oil supplier — is an absolute monarchy which applies an austere version of Sunni Islam. Religious police patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women.

Besides a ban on driving, women in Saudi Arabia must have written approval from a male guardian to leave the country, work or even undergo certain medical operations.

Riyadh is also an important factor in both Yemen and Syria, where protests have challenged autocratic leaders and left Washington trying to balance its support for democratic reform with concerns over stability and security in the region.

13-26

Egypt’s Mubarak Set to Go on Trial August 3

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dina Zayed

2011-05-27T143917Z_1705055056_GM1E75R1QWY01_RTRMADP_3_EGYPT

A man sits at his shoe-shine stall as his sleeping child (R) is covered with the Egyptian national flag at Tahrir square in Cairo, May 27, 2011. Thousands of Egyptians converged on Cairo’s Tahrir square on Friday in what organisers called a "second revolution" to push for deeper reforms and a speedy trial for ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his former aides.

REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

CAIRO (Reuters) – Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, overthrown by a popular uprising this year, was ordered on Wednesday to stand trial in August for the killing of protesters on charges that could carry the death penalty.

Mubarak, ousted on February 11 after mass protests demanding an end to his 30 years in power, has been questioned about his role in a crackdown in which more than 840 demonstrators died, as well as about alleged corruption.

He could face the death penalty if convicted on the charge of “pre-meditated killing.”

His two sons, Gamal, who was once viewed as being groomed for the presidency, and Alaa, will also stand trial alongside their father and prominent business executive Hussein Salem.
Judge Sayed Abdel-Azim, the head of the appeals court, said the trial would open on August 3 in a Cairo criminal court.

Egypt’s public prosecutor said on Tuesday that Mubarak was in no condition to be transferred to a prison hospital and would for now stay in a health facility in a Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he has been detained since mid-April.

Mubarak was admitted to hospital after reportedly suffering heart problems during his initial questioning.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States hoped Egypt would ensure due process for Mubarak, who was long a close Arab ally of Washington.

While emphasizing that it was up to the Egyptians to decide whether to prosecute Mubarak, she said any trial should be conducted to the highest standard. “Obviously we want to see the rule of law,” she told reporters.

Mubarak’s alleged crimes listed by the prosecutor include pre-meditated murder, abuse of influence, wasting public funds and unlawfully making private financial gains.
His sons and other former top officials are being held in Torah prison on the outskirts of Cairo.

(Writing by Edmund Blair, editing by Alistair Lyon)

13-23

Could Bin Laden Become An Arab Icon After All?

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

With A Little Help From A Foe

By Stephanie Doetzer

The reactions following Bin Laden’s death are a disaster. A person’s death may sometimes be good news. But somebody’s assassination never is. A commentary by Angela Merkel is happy. Hillary Clinton is happy. Barack Obama claims that justice has been done and hundreds of Americans celebrate cheerfully right next to Ground Zero. Hmm. Is this the Western world that likes to think of itself as an epitome of civilisation?

Bin Laden has never been the Arab icon that many Westerners believed him to be. And during the last four months of Arab revolutions Al Qaida has become even more irrelevant. But the fact that he was shot by American Special Forces on a “kill mission” changes the picture. He now has a chance of becoming an icon after all.

To be sure, many Arabs aren’t even interested in Bin Laden’s death. There are far bigger issues to care about these days and the young revolutionary crowd doesn’t have time for a man they perceive as a mere Western obsession. They didn’t care while Bin Laden was still alive, and why would they now?

German chancellor Angela Merkel comments on the death of Bin Laden in front of the press:

Epitome of civilisation? Chancellor Angela Merkel was chided in Germany for expressing “joy” of Osama Bin Laden’s death Others, however, do care quite a lot. They started caring when the news of the killing broke and changed the tone in which Bin Laden is being talked about. While most Western media prefer to use the word “killing” rather than “assassination”, Arab media go for either ightiyaal, meaning political murder, or istishhad, which is martyrdom said to lead straight to paradise.

More than ever, Bin Laden is now referred to as “Sheikh Osama Bin Laden”. In most Arab countries this is a sign of respect – or at least, it’s not the kind of word one would use to describe a heretic who has besmirched religion and misused Islam for his own goals.

Complex picture of Arab realities

In secular media, formulations are neutral and almost indifferent, but in many more religiously conservative outlets the tone is clearly one of mourning. But how to write about this for Western media without distorting the complex picture of Arab realities with its many shades of grey?

Does it make sense to quote the most outrageous reader’s comments from Al Jazeera Arabic’s website? From “May God have mercy on his soul and let him enter paradise” to “If he’s dead, then we’re all Bin Laden”?

Or is it more appropriate to quote those Arabs who say exactly the kind of stuff that Westerners want to hear? Like the commentators in Egypt’s Al Wafd newspaper who call Bin Laden a “black spot in Islamic clothes” and hope to close a dark chapter of Arab history.

There has been plenty of both. What is new is that people who are neither Salafi, nor particularly religious now defend Bin Laden as a person. They don’t approve of attacks on civilians, but they do consider him a fighter for a just cause rather than a criminal. And not because of 9/11, no. It’s because of his criticism of the Saudi royal family, because of his speeches about Palestine and because he allegedly relinquished his family’s fortune to lead a life of poverty.

Those who praise his principles and ‘good intentions’ don’t hate the West, nor are they likely to ever turn terrorist. But they feel an immediate urge for solidarity when one of them – and that’s what Bin Laden remained after all – gets shot by the special forces of a country of which they have ceased to expect anything good.

What may sound offensive to most Westerners, doesn’t shock many Arabs. After all, Bin Laden’s image in the Arab world has never only been that of a ruthless mastermind of international terrorism. He was the man that you could see on those Al Qaida videos from time to time, until they were replaced by audio-tapes. A man with a calm voice, a charismatic face and a captivating way of speaking classical Arabic – which is not exactly what the Western world got to see. Outside the Arab world, Bin Laden was reduced to fear-inspiring sound bites without context.

Front page of a Pakistani newspaper covering the death of Bin Laden

Is Bin Laden merely an obsession of the West? Al Qaida believes in violence as a political means, and, writes Doetzer, “the problem with many Western powers is that they believe in similar things, but without ever openly acknowledging it” By listening to him directly, Arabs could disagree, discard his ideas and compare him with their official leaders they liked even less. Unlike most Westerners, they knew Bin Laden wasn’t only talking about US foreign policy and Israel, but also about climate change and food security. And that he sometimes came up with suggestions for a US withdrawal from the Middle East that weren’t completely preposterous.

Emotional mishmash and contradictions

But events in these days also show that many Arab Muslims never quite figured out their own take on Bin Laden: Within one conversation, the same person may well claim that Bin Laden was on the payroll of the CIA, then deny his involvement in the 9/11 attacks – and end up by saying that the attack could be morally justified given the American atrocities on Arab soil.

It’s usually an emotional mishmash without much moral reflection, but a high dose of an intra-Islamic sense of unity that allows downplaying crimes committed by one’s own group by pointing to those committing by others.

The mechanism is strikingly similar to what Americans and Europeans do when they celebrate the extrajudicial killing of an individual and justify their reaction by highlighting his crimes.

It’s yet another example to show that the current enemies may have much more in common than they would ever admit: The problem with Al Qaida is that it believes in violence as a political means. The problem with many Western powers is that they believe in similar things, but without ever openly acknowledging it.

Watching those YouTube videos of Americans cheering in front of the White House feels a bit like a Déjà-vu. Last time, it was some Palestinians cheering the killing of Israeli settlers. And if I remember it rightly, Westerners were appalled by the pictures.

US Americans celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden in front of the White House in Washington

An eye for an eye:

Doetzer criticises the extrajudicial killing of Bin Laden, arguing the victory of Al Qaida’s ideology would have been more sustainable had it been achieved in court those chanting “U.S.A.” and “We did it” in New York and Washington don’t sound fundamentally different from Islamists chanting “Allahu Akbar”. And in both cases, it’s not the words that are problematic; it’s the spirit behind them.

A myth rather than a man

Both are tearing at each other for double standards, but neither truly believe in the rule of law. After all, things could have been done differently: Bin Laden could have been captured and put on trial. We could have listened to his version of events and might have found out what kind of person he was.

Instead, all we have are a couple of pictures: Bin Laden as a young fighter in Afghanistan, and then the man with a turban and a greying beard. It’s not much. And it allows him to be a myth rather than a man who has lived until a couple of days ago.

Had he died of kidney failure instead of the bullets, it may indeed have been a blow to Al Qaida.

But as things are, American Special Forces did him a huge favour by making him a martyr in the eyes of many. “I swear not to die but a free man” he said on an audio tape released in 2006.

He got what he wanted – with a little help from a foe.

Source: Qantara.de

13-22

Pres. Obama’s Speech on the Middle East and North Africa

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release

2011-05-25T163719Z_1335237166_LM1E75P1A4V01_RTRMADP_3_OBAMA-BRITAIN
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to both houses of Britain’s parliament, in Westminster Hall in London May 25, 2011.  REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/POOL

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Please, have a seat.  Thank you very much.  I want to begin by thanking Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark — one million frequent flyer miles.  (Laughter.)  I count on Hillary every single day, and I believe that she will go down as one of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.

The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy.  For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.  Square by square, town by town, country by country, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights.  Two leaders have stepped aside.  More may follow.  And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, by history and by faith.

Today, I want to talk about this change — the forces that are driving it and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security.

Now, already, we’ve done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts.  After years of war in Iraq, we’ve removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there.  In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a transition to Afghan lead.  And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden was no martyr.  He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate –- an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change.  He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy -– not what he could build.
Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents.  But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life.  By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands.

That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia.  On December 17th, a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart.  This was not unique.  It’s the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world -– the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity.  Only this time, something different happened.  After local officials refused to hear his complaints, this young man, who had never been particularly active in politics, went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.

There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years.  In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat.  So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country.  Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands.  And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home –- day after day, week after week — until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.

The story of this revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise.  The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not.  In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few.  In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn  -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

And this lack of self-determination –- the chance to make your life what you will –- has applied to the region’s economy as well.  Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity.  But in a global economy based on knowledge, based on innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe.

In the face of these challenges, too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere.  The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism.  Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression.  Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else.

But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore.  Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world -– a world of astonishing progress in places like India and Indonesia and Brazil.  Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before.  And so a new generation has emerged.  And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.

In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.” 

In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”

In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now.  It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”

In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.” 

Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region.  And through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.

Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily.  In our day and age -– a time of 24-hour news cycles and constant communication –- people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks.  But it will be years before this story reaches its end.  Along the way, there will be good days and there will bad days.  In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual.  And as we’ve already seen, calls for change may give way, in some cases, to fierce contests for power.

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds.  For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region:  countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.

We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to people’s hopes; they’re essential to them.  We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks.  We believe people everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut-off in energy supplies.  As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.

Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind.  Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense.  Given that this mistrust runs both ways –- as Americans have been seared by hostage-taking and violent rhetoric and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens -– a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world.

And that’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.  I believed then -– and I believe now -– that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals.  The status quo is not sustainable.  Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.

So we face a historic opportunity.  We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.  There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.  Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise.  But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility.  It’s not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo -– it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it’s the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome. 

Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region.  But we can, and we will, speak out for a set of core principles –- principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:

The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.  (Applause.)  

The United States supports a set of universal rights.  And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders  -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.

And we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.

Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest.  Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.

Let me be specific.  First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.  That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high -– as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab world’s largest nation.  Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership.  But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.

Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have thus far been answered by violence.  The most extreme example is Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi launched a war against his own people, promising to hunt them down like rats.  As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to try to impose regime change by force -– no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help.  Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.  The message would have been clear:  Keep power by killing as many people as it takes.  Now, time is working against Qaddafi. He does not have control over his country.  The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council.  And when Qaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.

While Libya has faced violence on the greatest scale, it’s not the only place where leaders have turned to repression to remain in power.  Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens.  The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime –- including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.

The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy.  President Assad now has a choice:  He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.  The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests.  It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests.  It must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition.  Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and will continue to be isolated abroad.

So far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression.  And this speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet represses its own people at home.  Let’s remember that the first peaceful protests in the region were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail.  We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran.  The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory.  And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.

Now, our opposition to Iran’s intolerance and Iran’s repressive measures, as well as its illicit nuclear program and its support of terror, is well known.  But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change — with change that’s consistent with the principles that I’ve outlined today.  That’s true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power.  And that’s true today in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a longstanding partner, and we are committed to its security.  We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law. 

Nevertheless, we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and we will — and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.  The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.  (Applause.)  The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.

Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict.  In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy.  The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security.  Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks.  But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress.  And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.

So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region.  Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike.  Our message is simple:  If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States. 

We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future -– particularly young people.  We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo -– to build networks of entrepreneurs and expand exchanges in education, to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease.  Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths.  And we will use the technology to connect with -– and listen to –- the voices of the people.

For the fact is, real reform does not come at the ballot box alone.  Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information.  We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard -– whether it’s a big news organization or a lone blogger.  In the 21st century, information is power, the truth cannot be hidden, and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.

Such open discourse is important even if what is said does not square with our worldview.  Let me be clear, America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard, even if we disagree with them.  And sometimes we profoundly disagree with them.

We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy.  What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent.  Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and the respect for the rights of minorities.

Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion.  In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.”  America will work to see that this spirit prevails -– that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them.  In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation.  And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.

What is true for religious minorities is also true when it comes to the rights of women.  History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered.  And that’s why we will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men -– by focusing assistance on child and maternal health; by helping women to teach, or start a business; by standing up for the right of women to have their voices heard, and to run for office.  The region will never reach its full potential when more than half of its population is prevented from achieving their full potential.  (Applause.)

Now, even as we promote political reform, even as we promote human rights in the region, our efforts can’t stop there.  So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that are transitioning to democracy. 

After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets.  The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family.  Too many people in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, perhaps hoping that their luck will change.  Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job.  Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from those ideas. 

The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people.  In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world.  It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google.  That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street.  For just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity.

So, drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; on investment, not just assistance.  The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness, the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young.  America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability, promoting reform, and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy.  And we’re going to start with Tunisia and Egypt.

First, we’ve asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt.  Together, we must help them recover from the disruptions of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year.  And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.

Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past.  So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship.  We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation.  And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.

Third, we’re working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt.  And these will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region.  And we will work with the allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.

Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa.  If you take out oil exports, this entire region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland.  So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.  And just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.  

Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress -– the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect.  We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts at anti-corruption — by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to increase transparency and hold government accountable.  Politics and human rights; economic reform.

Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.

For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region.  For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.  For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own.  Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.

For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations.  Yet expectations have gone unmet.  Israeli settlement activity continues.  Palestinians have walked away from talks.  The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate.  Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now.

I disagree.  At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.  That’s certainly true for the two parties involved.

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.  Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.  And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values.  Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable.  And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.  But precisely because of our friendship, it’s important that we tell the truth:  The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.

The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River.  Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself.  A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people -– not just one or two leaders — must believe peace is possible.  The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action.  No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else.  But endless delay won’t make the problem go away.  What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples:  Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear:  a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.  The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.  We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.  The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state. 

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -– by itself -– against any threat.  Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security.  The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state.  And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations.  Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met.  I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain:  the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.  But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. 

Now, let me say this:  Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table.  In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel:  How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?  And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.  Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.

I recognize how hard this will be.  Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past.  We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones.  That father said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.”  We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza.  “I have the right to feel angry,” he said.  “So many people were expecting me to hate.  My answer to them is I shall not hate.  Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”

That is the choice that must be made -– not simply in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but across the entire region -– a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future.  It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by the people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.

For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful.  In Egypt, we see it in the efforts of young people who led protests.  In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, “peaceful, peaceful.”  In Benghazi, a city threatened with destruction, we see it in the courthouse square where people gather to celebrate the freedoms that they had never known.  Across the region, those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy by those who are prying lose the grip of an iron fist.

For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar.  Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire.  Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved.  And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union –- organizing, marching, protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” 

Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa -– words which tell us that repression will fail, and that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights. 

It will not be easy.  There’s no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope.  But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves.  And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you. 

END               1:00 P.M. EDT

13-22

US Assured of Action Against ‘Sanctuaries’

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: A flurry of activity of Monday provided hope that the Pak-US marriage of convenience was not over despite the recent bellowing and booming of the Pakistani leadership.

2011-05-16T133358Z_1323651652_GM1E75G1FO201_RTRMADP_3_BINLADEN

U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) (L) meets with Pakistan’s PM Yusuf Raza Gilani at the prime minister’s residence in Islamabad May 16, 2011.

REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

By the end of Senator John Kerry’s day-long stay in Islamabad it appeared that the US had convinced Pakistan to undertake several steps for proving its commitment to the fight against terrorism. These included returning the wreckage of the helicopter which had malfunctioned during the May 2 raid in Abbotabad and eliminating terrorist sanctuaries in tribal areas.

In exchange Washington has committed itself to a process, which if successful, will lead to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Islamabad for reviving the strategic dialogue which has been stalled since the arrest of CIA operative Raymond Davis and subsequent events such as drone attacks and the unilateral US operation killing Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden.

John Kerry, who heads the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, extracted these promises from the Pakistani leadership; he warned them that “if the relationship is to fall apart …. US will always reserve the right to protect its national security”.

Senator Kerry’s tough love message was reinforced, Dawn has learnt, by the telephone calls Secretary Clinton made to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

Ms Clinton rang up Mr Gilani when he, the president and Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani were meeting Senator Kerry. The call is reported to have lasted about 20 minutes.

The secretary of state had called Mr Zardari on Sunday.

“I think we made serious progress. Pakistan has agreed to do a number of things immediately to demonstrate its further seriousness of purpose and we agreed to have several officials from the US to come here in the middle of the week or sometime soon to carry on this discussion and prepare the ground for Secretary Clinton,” a visibly fatigued Kerry told a selected group of journalists after his meetings with Pakistani civil and military leaders.

Having met the army chief on Sunday night, Mr Kerry spent most of Monday in meetings. As he noted: “We worked harder today to talk about ways in which we can be better partners, work cooperatively and open doors to joint cooperation to fight terrorism.”

Senator Kerry met President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and Army Chief Gen Kayani, individually and collectively, before a joint declaration was issued by the two sides expressing the willingness to carry on with their relationship.

“In furtherance of its existing commitment to fight terrorism, Pakistan has agreed to take several immediate steps to underscore its seriousness in renewing the full cooperative effort with the United States,” the joint communiqué said.

Senator Kerry avoided divulging details of the steps agreed upon, but vaguely described it as including cooperation on counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing and targeting terrorist sanctuaries. The latter is hardly surprising; having been high on the American wish list for a long time, action against the havens in tribal areas was one of the major demands Mr Kerry brought to Islamabad.

He said: “We need Pakistan’s cooperation, we need Pakistan’s help against sanctuaries in this country from where people are destabilising Afghanistan and frankly killing … all of (those who) are trying to provide for a stable Afghanistan.”

However, he stopped of claiming that Pakistani leaders had agreed to go after the Haqqani network, one of the core contentious issues in the rocky bilateral ties. He was only willing to say cryptically that both countries had agreed to target “some entity, which is engaged in terrorism … the entity that needs to be taken on one way or the other”.

He also said that other measures to be taken by Pakistan included returning the tail of the helicopter which was left behind by the Navy Seals during the Abbotabad raid.

After it malfunctioned, the Americans exploded the helicopter before they left; this was done, it was reported, to prevent the stealth technology from falling into Pakistani, and possibly other, hands.
However, distrust is still not a thing of the past. Despite Pakistan’s new commitments, which Mr Kerry himself described as “more detailed, more precise and clarified”, he made it clear that Washington was no longer going to be satisfied by mere promises.

“This road ahead will not be defined by words. It will be defined by actions,” he told journalists.

This is why Washington is going to follow a step-by-step approach before confirming that Secretary Clinton will be taking a flight to Islamabad.

Two US officials — Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and CIA Deputy Director Mark Morrel — will visit Islamabad to follow up on Mr Kerry’s talks and discuss the agreed measures in details and possibly gauge progress on the commitments made to the senator.

Secretary Clinton’s visit remains contingent on the outcome of Grossman’s discussions. “First a meeting will take place to try to lay the groundwork for that (Clinton’s meeting) and coming out of that meeting the secretary would set the date,” Senator Kerry said. However, in the midst of all the tough talk and the conditions he set, Mr Kerry also made an effort to soothe ruffled feathers, “we are committed to working together with Pakistan — not unilaterally, but together in joint efforts” — contingent once again on Pakistani cooperation.

“But, if we are cooperating and working together there is no reason (for acting unilaterally),” he said.           

From The Newspaper

13-21

What Holbrooke Knew

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nicholas D. Kristof

US AfghanistanWhen he was alive, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was effectively gagged, unable to comment on what he saw as missteps of the Obama administration that he served. But as we face a crisis in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden, it’s worth listening to Holbrooke’s counsel — from beyond the grave.

As one of America’s finest strategic thinkers and special envoy to the Af-Pak region, Holbrooke represented the administration — but also chafed at aspects of the White House approach. In particular, he winced at the overreliance on military force, for it reminded him of Vietnam.

“There are structural similarities between Afghanistan and Vietnam,” he noted, in scattered reflections now in the hands of his widow, Kati Marton.

“He thought that this could become Obama’s Vietnam,” Marton recalled. “Some of the conversations in the Situation Room reminded him of conversations in the Johnson White House. When he raised that, Obama didn’t want to hear it.”

Because he was fiercely loyal to his friend Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, Holbrooke bit his lip and kept quiet in public. But he died in December, and Marton and some of his friends (me included) believe it’s time to lift the cone of silence and share his private views. At this time, with Pakistan relations in a crisis and Afghanistan under review, our country could use a dose of his wisdom.

Holbrooke opposed the military “surge” in Afghanistan and would see the demise of Bin Laden as an opportunity to go into diplomatic overdrive. He believed strongly that the only way out of the mess in Afghanistan was a peace deal with the Taliban, and his team was secretly engaged in outreach to figures linked to the Taliban, Marton says.

“Reconciliation — that was what he was working toward in Afghanistan, and building up the civilian and political side that had been swamped by the military,” Marton recalled. “The whole policy was off-kilter, way too militarized. Richard never thought that this war could be won on the battlefield.”

His aim, she says, was something like the Balkan peace agreement he negotiated at a military base in Dayton, Ohio. The process would be led by the United States but include all the regional players, including Pakistan and Iran.

“He was dreaming of a Dayton-like setting somewhere, isolated, no media, no Washington bureaucracy,” Marton said. “He was a long way from that, but he was dreaming of that.”

Vali Nasr, a member of Holbrooke’s team at the State Department, puts it this way: “He understood from his experience that every conflict has to end at the negotiating table.”

Nasr says that Holbrooke’s aim for Afghanistan was “not cut-and-run, but a viable, lasting solution” to end the civil war there. If Holbrooke were still alive, Nasr says, he would be shuttling frantically between Islamabad and Kabul, trying to take advantage of Bin Laden’s killing to lay the groundwork for a peace process.

To do that, though, we have to put diplomacy and development — and not 100,000 troops, costing $10 billion a month — at the heart of our Afghan policy. Holbrooke was bemused that he would arrive at a meeting in a taxi, while Gen. David Petraeus would arrive escorted by what seemed a battalion of aides. And Holbrooke would flinch when Petraeus would warmly refer to him as his “wingman” — meaning it as a huge compliment — rather than seeing military force as the adjunct to diplomacy.

As for Pakistan, Holbrooke told me and others that because of its size and nuclear weaponry, it was center stage; Afghanistan was a sideshow.

“A stable Afghanistan is not essential; a stable Pakistan is essential,” he noted, in the musings he left behind. He believed that a crucial step to reducing radicalism in Pakistan was to ease the Kashmir dispute with India, and he favored more pressure on India to achieve that.

Holbrooke was frustrated by Islamabad’s duplicity. But he also realized that Pakistan sheltered the Afghan Taliban because it distrusted the United States, particularly after the United States walked away in 1989 after the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan. And renewed threats of abandonment won’t build trust.

Rather, Holbrooke poured his soul into building a relationship not only with Pakistani generals but also with the Pakistani people, and there were modest dividends. He helped improve C.I.A. access to Pakistan, which may have helped with the raid on the Bin Laden compound. And he soothed opposition to drone attacks, Nasr noted.

“He was treating them as a serious player, not as if you’re just having a one-night stand but as if there might actually be marriage at the end of the relationship,” Marton said.

It’s a vision of painstaking diplomacy toward a strategic goal — peace — and it’s what we need more of. President Obama said wonderful things at the memorial service for Holbrooke. But the best tribute would be to listen to his advice.

13-21

US Warns Pakistan over NY Bomb Plot

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The US secretary of state says Islamabad would face “very severe consequences,” if a terrorist attack on US soil was traced to Pakistan.

“We’ve made it very clear that if — heaven-forbid — an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences,” Hillary Clinton told CBS TV during an interview on Saturday.

However, she acknowledged that Pakistan’s attitude toward fighting terrorists had changed remarkably, but emphasized that US President Barack Obama’s administration “expects more.”

The remarks followed the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, the suspect behind a failed bombing in New York’s Time Square.

US investigators believe the bomb plot was formulated by more than just one person and US media suggested that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was linked with the attempt.

However, TTP, a pro-Taliban militant group, has denied any connection with Shahzad.

The Obama Administration officials have said that “their top priority was to nail down Shahzad’s links to militant groups, and then to press Pakistan to act against the groups.”

12-20

Final Destination Iran?

March 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Rob Edwards, The Herald (Scotland)

Hundreds of powerful US bunker-buster bombs are being shipped from California to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.

The Sunday Herald can reveal that the US government signed a contract in January to transport 10 ammunition containers to the island. According to a cargo manifest from the US navy, this included 387 Blu bombs used for blasting hardened or underground structures.

Experts say that they are being put in place for an assault on Irans controversial nuclear facilities. There has long been speculation that the US military is preparing for such an attack, should diplomacy fail to persuade Iran not to make nuclear weapons.

Although Diego Garcia is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, it is used by the US as a military base under an agreement made in 1971. The agreement led to 2,000 native islanders being forcibly evicted to the Seychelles and Mauritius.

The Sunday Herald reported in 2007 that stealth bomber hangers on the island were being equipped to take bunker-buster bombs.

Although the story was not confirmed at the time, the new evidence suggests that it was accurate.

Contract details for the shipment to Diego Garcia were posted on an international tenders website by the US navy.

A shipping company based in Florida, Superior Maritime Services, will be paid $699,500 to carry many thousands of military items from Concord, California, to Diego Garcia.

Crucially, the cargo includes 195 smart, guided, Blu-110 bombs and 192 massive 2000lb Blu-117 bombs.

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran, said Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London, co-author of a recent study on US preparations for an attack on Iran. US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours, he added.

The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel, Plesch argued.

The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely, he added. The US … is using its forces as part of an overall strategy of shaping Irans actions.

According to Ian Davis, director of the new independent thinktank, Nato Watch, the shipment to Diego Garcia is a major concern. We would urge the US to clarify its intentions for these weapons, and the Foreign Office to clarify its attitude to the use of Diego Garcia for an attack on Iran, he said.

For Alan Mackinnon, chair of Scottish CND, the revelation was extremely worrying. He stated: It is clear that the US government continues to beat the drums of war over Iran, most recently in the statements of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

It is depressingly similar to the rhetoric we heard prior to the war in Iraq in 2003.

The British Ministry of Defence has said in the past that the US government would need permission to use Diego Garcia for offensive action. It has already been used for strikes against Iraq during the 1991 and 2003 Gulf wars.

About 50 British military staff are stationed on the island, with more than 3,200 US personnel. Part of the Chagos Archipelago, it lies about 1,000 miles from the southern coasts of India and Sri Lanka, well placed for missions to Iran.

The US Department of Defence did not respond to a request for a comment.

12-12

China Accuses US of Online Warfare in Iran

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Iran election unrest an example of US ‘naked political scheming’ behind free speech facade, says Communist party editorial

A protest over the Iranian election in Washington last June. Photograph: Molly Riley/Reuters

The United States used “online warfare” to stir up unrest in Iran after last year’s elections, the Chinese Communist party newspaper claimed today, hitting back at Hillary Clinton’s speech last week about internet freedom.

An editorial in the People’s Daily accused the US of launching a “hacker brigade” and said it had used social media such as Twitter to spread rumours and create trouble.

“Behind what America calls free speech is naked political scheming. How did the unrest after the Iranian election come about?” said the editorial, signed by Wang Xiaoyang. “It was because online warfare launched by America, via YouTube video and Twitter microblogging, spread rumours, created splits, stirred up and sowed discord between the followers of conservative reformist factions.”

Washington said at the time of the unrest that it had asked Twitter, which was embraced by Iranian anti-government protesters, to remain open. Several social media sites, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, have been blocked in China in the last year.

The editorial asked rhetorically whether obscenity or activities promoting terrorism would be allowed on the net in the US. “We’re afraid that in the eyes of American politicians, only information controlled by America is free information, only news acknowledged by America is free news, only speech approved by America is free speech, and only information flow that suits American interests is free information flow,” it added.

It attacked the decision to cut off of Microsoft’s instant messaging services to nations covered by US sanctions, including Cuba, Iran, Syria, Sudan and North Korea, as violating America’s stated desire for free information flow. Washington later said that such services fostered democracy and encouraged their restoration.

China initially gave a low-key response to Google’s announcement that it was no longer willing to censor google.cn. The internet giant said it had reached its decision following a Chinese-originated cyber attack targeting the email accounts of human rights activists, and in light of increasing online censorship.

Clinton’s direct challenge to China, in a speech that had echoes of the cold war with its references to the Berlin wall and an “information curtain”, led Beijing to warn that US criticism could damage bilateral relations. Clinton called on China to hold a full and open investigation into the December attack on Google.

In an interview carried by several Chinese newspapers today, Zhou Yonglin, deputy operations director of the national computer network emergency response technical team, said: “Everyone with technical knowledge of computers knows that just because a hacker used an IP address in China, the attack was not necessarily launched by a Chinese hacker.”

US diplomats sought to reach out to the Chinese public by briefing bloggers in China on Friday. They held a similar meeting during Barack Obama’s visit in November.

12-10

Iran, Syria Leaders Brush Aside US Call to Weaken Ties

March 4, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Two countries scrap visa requirements

By Roueida Mabardi, Agence France Presse (AFP)

2010-02-25T152444Z_95987295_GM1E62P1T0201_RTRMADP_3_SYRIA-IRAN

DAMASCUS: The presidents of Syria and Iran signed a visa-scrapping accord on Thursday, signaling even closer ties and brushing aside United States efforts to drive a wedge between the two allies.

“I am surprised by their call to keep a distance between the countries … when they raise the issue of stability and peace in the Middle East, and all the other beautiful principles,” Syrian President Bashar Assad told a news conference in Damascus with his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history,” the Syrian president said.

Ahmadinejad, who flew in to Damascus earlier in the day and later met exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, stressed that ties between the two Muslim states, both outspoken critics of US ally Israel, were as “solid” as ever. “Nothing can damage these relations,” he said.

On the same day in occupied Jerusalem, the United States and Israel resumed an annual “strategic dialogue” for the first time since US President Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, with Iran prominent on the agenda.

US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg met Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Assad said his country was always on the alert against Israel.

“We are always preparing ourselves for an Israeli aggression whether it is small or big scale,” he said.

Afterward, Ahmadinejad met Meshaal, Ahmed Jibril – leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – and other Palestinian leaders critical of the peace process for talks focused on “the Israeli threats made against Syria, Iran, the Palestinians and Lebanon,” a participant in the meeting said.

Ahmadinejad told the Palestinian leaders that “Iran places itself solidly beside the Palestinian people, until their land is liberated,” the participant said, and that resistance was the “likeliest path to liberation.”

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington has been pressing Damascus to move away from Iran

Questioned on Clinton, Assad adopted an ironic tone.

“We met today to sign a ‘separation accord’ between Syria and Iran, but because of a bad translation we ended up signing an accord on scrapping visas,” he quipped.

Assad said the agreement would serve “to further reinforce relations in all fields and at all levels” between the two countries, which have been close allies for the past three decades.

In the face of US-led efforts to slap new sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program, he also defended Iran’s right to pursue uranium enrichment.

“To forbid an independent state the right to enrichment amounts to a new colonialist process in the region,” he said.

The visit came after Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syria was determined to help Iran and the West engage in a “constructive” dialogue over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Western governments suspect that the program in Iran is cover for a drive to produce a bomb.

Tehran vehemently denies the allegation.

On the eve of Ahmadinejad’s visit, Clinton was blunter than ever about the bid to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran.

Testifying in the Senate, she said William Burns, the third-ranking US diplomat, “had very intense, substantive talks in Damascus” last week on what was the highest-level US mission to the Syrian capital in five years.

Syria is being asked “generally to begin to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States,” Clinton said.

12-10

Karzai to Pay Taliban to Lay Down Their Arms

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Waheedullah Massoud (AFP)

2010-01-27T192506Z_1489401820_GM1E61S09H201_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

Afghan President Hamid Karzai waves as he leaves 10 Downing Street after his meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, London January 27, 2010.  

REUTERS/Kevin Coombs 

KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai unveiled an ambitious Western-funded plan Friday to offer money and jobs to tempt Taliban fighters to lay down their arms in an effort to quell a crippling insurgency.

His comments to the BBC came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the Taliban as part of Afghanistan’ s “political fabric”, but said any future role would depend on insurgents laying down their weapons.

Karzai’s plan echoed similar proposals by Washington to try and bring low and mid-level extremists back into mainstream society, but the leadership of Islamist insurgent groups remain hostile to negotiations.

Militants led by the Taliban movement have been waging an increasingly deadly rebellion against the Afghan government and foreign troops since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime from power in late 2001.

“We know as the Afghan people we must have peace at any cost,” Karzai said in the television interview aired Friday ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in London next week, where he will present the plan.

“Those that we approach to return will be provided with the abilities to work, to find jobs, to have protection, to resettle in their own communities.”

The Taliban gives its foot-soldiers higher salaries than the Afghan government can afford to pay its forces, and the president said his project would have international backing to provide the necessary funds.

Hardline Taliban supporters, who were members of Al-Qaeda or other terror groups, would not be accepted in the scheme, Karzai added.

The Taliban leadership have repeatedly rebuffed peace talks in the past, and on Friday a spokesman for the militia, Zabihullah Mujahid, reiterated that they would not negotiate with Karzai’s government.

“Our only and main goal is the freedom and independence of our country. We cannot be bought by money and bounties. The Taliban will not sell themselves off for cash,” Mujahid said, reacting to Karzai’s comments.

“We insist on our previous stance that we will not negotiate with this government. Any negotiation now would mean accepting being a slave of America. Our goal is enforcing an Islamic government and withdrawal of foreign forces.”

Insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who commands another radical Islamist group Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, would come to the table with the US and Afghan government, but only under strict conditions, his spokesman Zubair Sediqi said.

“All the foreign forces must leave Afghanistan unconditionally. A permanent ceasefire must be enforced. All prisoners from all side must be freed. An interim administration must take charge for one year,” Sediqi told AFP.

Karzai has in the past urged the United States to back talks with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar but Washington has resisted negotiations with any figures linked to wider extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

On a visit to Pakistan — which has come under intense US pressure to do more to wipe out Islamist extremists along its border with Afghanistan — Gates said the Taliban had to prove they wanted a role in Afghanistan’s future.

“The question is whether they are prepared to play a legitimate role in the political fabric of Afghanistan going forward, meaning participating in elections, meaning not assassinating local officials and killing families,” he told reporters.

Gates had said earlier that some lower-ranking insurgents might be open to making peace with Kabul, but warned that the senior-most Taliban leaders would unlikely reconcile with Afghanistan’s government.

In Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a long-term non-military strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The strategy aims to to rebuild the Afghan farm sector, improve governance and bring extremists back into mainstream society.

It complements a military strategy in which President Barack Obama announced on December 1 he would deploy another 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan.

Extra troop commitments from NATO allies are expected to take to around 150,000 the total number of foreign troops operating in Afghanistan under US and NATO command in the coming year.

12-5

America’s Credibility Takes Another Blow

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By David Rothkopf

court_front_med It’s ironic. At precisely the moment that Secretary of State Clinton was rightly striking out at the Chinese for their infringement of the rights of their own citizens to open Internet access, democracy was dying in America.

In fact now, following an era that might well be defined by America’s twin credibility crises of the past decade, another looms.

The first two blows — blows that have left America’s standing in the world weaker today than it has been at any time in the past half century, even with the many steps President Obama has taken to reverse the missteps of the Bush era — undercut two of what might be seen as the three pillars of American standing on the planet.

The initial credibility crisis was triggered by the Bush administration’s reckless disregard for the values upon which the republic was founded. >From Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, from the illegal invasion of Iraq to the rendition and torture of prisoners, America’s role as a leader by virtue of our moral standing was called into question. The champions of the rule of law were now seen, rightfully, as one of its enemies, arguing as we were that there were two standards: that to which we held the rest of the world and that we chose for ourselves.

Next, America’s role as an economic model for the world, champion of free markets and opportunity for all came under fire. In the run up to the economic crisis of 2008-2009, growing inequality in the United States was leading many critics to question our “leave it to the markets” approach. But then came the crisis and once again, the United States demonstrated that the doctrine we had preached worldwide were not going to be applied at home and moreover, that our system was deeply and fundamentally flawed. Doubt about “American capitalism” were only amplified in the aftermath of the crisis, in which middle class victims of the crisis were hardly helped and many were hurt but in which Wall Street fat cats called the tune, reaped the rewards of government intervention and then flouted their power by shrugging off the government when it was no longer necessary to their business plans.

What was left for Americans to cling to? Our moral standing and our fundamental message to the world had been built on the ideas of respect for the rule of law and free markets. And now the world was left to wonder, if not America, then to whom do we turn? Should we embrace other models?

Admittedly, the Chinese model, which might have had a shot at greater influence given the damage done to the U.S. brand, wasn’t doing itself any favors with its attempt to deny its people both basic rights of all international citizens of the 21st Century … which would also have the effect of making Chinese workers less competitive in the global economy. Hillary Clinton’s speech attacking this was forceful and utterly appropriate. The Chinese whining in response to it was a sign of weakness and with some luck, the Obama administration will ignore it, shrug off the Chinese threats of consequences in other areas of the bilateral relationship, and continue to press home this essential point.

But the argument on behalf of the American way was made immeasurably harder recently by the Supreme Court’s devastating blow to several of the most fundamental precepts of American society — equal rights, for example, or truly free speech (which is to say the right speak and be heard, without having to pay for it).

By a 5-4 vote the justices of the court, with the Republican right in the majority, struck down limits on corporate campaign spending. Further building on the dangerous fiction in American law that corporations ought to have rights akin to those of individuals, the decision effectively unleashes the floodgates of corporate and union money into the political arena.

This is certainly a more powerful threat to democracy than terrorism. It may well be a more powerful threat to democracy than was the fatally-flawed Soviet Union. Because to the extent to which politicians depend on donations to remain in power, they are inevitably influenced by those who have the most money. Not surprisingly, corporate entities, representing many people and often vast economic enterprises, have vastly more financial resources than individuals. Arguing, as American right wingers do, that campaign donations are form of free speech and thus cannot be constrained, ignores the reality that by equating money with free speech we effectively say that those with more money have more free speech, are entitled to greater influence within our society.

The implications are stark. Should this decision go unreversed by subsequent action of the Congress, a future court or a future constitutional amendment, it tips the balance of power in the United States even farther away from average people and in the direction of elites. Since campaign donations do not flow from companies primarily for ideological reasons but rather to advance narrow self-interests, the business of U.S. political class will necessarily be driven by the politics of the business class.

In a nutshell, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision made it very likely that America will not be an effective leader in combating global warming or preserving global resources, it will not be able to effectively resolve the internal threats to its own society like a failing health care system, and it will pursue international policies that are driven less by the broad national interest and more by the agenda of companies that in fact, have increasingly little national identity.

In this respect, this compromise of the third and most important pillar of U.S. international leadership-democracy, may be the most damaging of all. We can repair, as the Obama administration has attempted to do, the abuses of the Bush years. But if the court’s action does in effect institutionalize Calvin Coolidge’s old idea that “the business of America is business” it will be impossible to either effectively redress the flaws in the American economic model or for us to continue to argue that the nation that was the most important pioneer of representative democracy will continue to be able to play that role.

12-5

A Talk with the Taliban

December 17, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sara Daniel, Le Nouvel Observateur

121109french
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

Community News (V11-I39)

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

World’s tallest man honored for honesty and service

tallest man MIAMI, FL–Aurangzeb Khan, the world’s tallest man alive, has been honored by the Miami-Dade County Services Department for his quality service as a cab driver. He was recently given the Chauffer of the Quarter Prize for his efforts to help his passenger. In one stance he even drove long distance to return a purse full of credit cards, cash, and medicines left behind by an Australian tourist.

`It is actions like this that restores faith in human nature, and as a regular traveler to America, it leaves me with a great feeling about traveling in your country,’’ the Australian tourist wrote ina commendation which was later used by the county in its press release announcing the award.

The Pakistan born Khan is 8 feet tall and now stands taller than Shaquille O’Neal.  He has been living in US since 1981 and now drives a cab after stints with circuses around the country.

But Khan is a towering figure not only in his physical height but also his honesty and kindness.

In 1992, he returned a bag with $10,000 a passenger forgot in the cab.

“Mr. Khan represents the kind of attitude that all chauffeurs should have when providing services to visitors and residents of this community,’’ said Sonya Perez, of the Miami-Dade Consumer Service Department. “By doing a kind deed, Mr. Khan gave this tourist a positive experience as well as a positive view of our county.’’

Hillary Clinton hosts Iftar at State Department

WASHINGTON D.C.–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an Iftar on Sept.15 at the State Department. She said that the White House is committed to improving relations with the Muslim world.

In her speech to the guests she said, “Now, this time of self-reflection and clarity reminds us that the principles that are the hallmark of Ramadan – charity, sacrifice, and compassion – are also values we cherish as Americans. They guide us towards good stewardship of our families, our communities, our country, and our world. It is, as one of my wonderful young aides who Farah has already referenced – Huma Abedin – summed up in the words of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, that we need to be inspired by our leaders to fight poverty, injustice and hate with, “the weapon of the Prophet—patience and righteousness.” Well, that, to me, sums up much of what we celebrate tonight as we break fast.

Now, we recognize that the relationship between the United States and Muslim communities has at times suffered from misunderstanding and misperception. But we are committed to learning and listening; to creating bridges of understanding and respect; and building stronger bonds of cooperation. We believe that there is more that unites people of all faiths than divides us.

The Obama Administration will work to ensure that our communication, our partnerships, and our policies reflect that core belief. Because whatever God you pray to—or even whether you believe at all—we all need to work for the same goals: a world where our children can live together in peace and prosperity, and fulfill their own God-given potentials.”

Sultana Ali promoted at Massey Communications

ORLANDO, FL–Massey Communications, Orlando, has promoted Sultana Ali to account executive, business development.

Ali is a former national board member of the United Nations Association-USA (UNA-USA) where she represented the Young Professionals for International Cooperation. Currently, she serves on the board of directors locally for the Central Florida Women’s Resource Center, FHSMUN (Florida High Schools Model UN) and Harbor House of Central Florida, where she serves on its executive committee as Second Vice-President.

She  has been honored with a Global Young Advocate Award from UNA-USA, the Central Florida Women’s Resource Center Junior Summit Award, the Girl Scout Council of Central Florida’s Young Woman of Distinction and was named one of Central Florida’s “13 Shining Stars” by Central Florida News 13 and the American Red Cross. She also received the agency’s Todd Persons Award. Recently, she was named as a Finalist for the eWomenNetwork Foundation’s Emerging Leader of the Year Award.

A Walt Disney Scholar and Florida Academic Scholar, Sultana graduated from University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in International Business Marketing and a minor in Political Science where she was recognized with the J.C. Aspley award and scholarship.

Muslim students at Lehigh U. fight hunger

BETHLEHEM, PA–Muslim students at Lehigh University have joined the national push against hunger by volunteering at the Trinity Beth Episcopal Church’s soup kitchen.

The students are part of a national organization called Muslims Against Hunger, an organization that partners with soup kitchens and food pantries to provide volunteers and food, the student newspaper reported.

Taha Haque, contacted Zamir Hassan, the founder and head of Muslims Against Hunger, and expressed interest in bringing the organization to Lehigh. Haque said the chapter will be the first in Pennsylvania.

About 15 students helped serve a lunch of Hassan’s special chicken, rice and green beans to the people gathered at Trinity Beth. Haque said the participating students were from all different campus groups, including ROTC, Hillel Society and Hindu students.

Sierra Foundation hosts Iftar

sierra RENO, NV– The Sierra Foundation,a Reno based nonprofit intercultural and interfaith dialogue foundation, hosted three Iftar dinners in the past two weeks. The events were attended by a large number of non-Muslims.

Apart from the dinners the participants were treated to lectures on Islamic practices and a  cultural presentation on the poetry of Rumi.

11-39

Next Page »