Iranian Elections: The ‘Stolen Elections’ Hoax

July 2, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Prof. James Petras, Global Research, Financial Times Editorial

“Change for the poor means food and jobs, not a relaxed dress code or mixed recreation… Politics in Iran is a lot more about class war than religion.”

Introduction

There is hardly any election, in which the White House has a significant stake, where the electoral defeat of the pro-US candidate is not denounced as illegitimate by the entire political and mass media elite. In the most recent period, the White House and its camp followers cried foul following the free (and monitored) elections in Venezuela and Gaza, while joyously fabricating an ‘electoral success’ in Lebanon despite the fact that the Hezbollah-led coalition received over 53% of the vote.

The recently concluded, June 12, 2009 elections in Iran are a classic case: The incumbent nationalist-populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (MA) received 63.3% of the vote (or 24.5 million votes), while the leading Western-backed liberal opposition candidate Hossein Mousavi (HM) received 34.2% or (13.2 million votes).

Iran’s presidential election drew a record turnout of more than 80% of the electorate, including an unprecedented overseas vote of 234,812, in which HM won 111,792 to MA’s 78,300. The opposition led by HM did not accept their defeat and organized a series of mass demonstrations that turned violent, resulting in the burning and destruction of automobiles, banks, public building and armed confrontations with the police and other authorities. Almost the entire spectrum of Western opinion makers, including all the major electronic and print media, the major liberal, radical, libertarian and conservative web-sites, echoed the opposition’s claim of rampant election fraud. Neo-conservatives, libertarian conservatives and Trotskyites joined the Zionists in hailing the opposition protestors as the advance guard of a democratic revolution. Democrats and Republicans condemned the incumbent regime, refused to recognize the result of the vote and praised the demonstrators’ efforts to overturn the electoral outcome. The New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, the Israeli Foreign Office and the entire leadership of the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations called for harsher sanctions against Iran and announced Obama’s proposed dialogue with Iran as ‘dead in the water’.

The Electoral Fraud Hoax

Western leaders rejected the results because they ‘knew’ that their reformist candidate could not lose…For months they published daily interviews, editorials and reports from the field ‘detailing’ the failures of Ahmadinejad’s administration; they cited the support from clerics, former officials, merchants in the bazaar and above all women and young urbanites fluent in English, to prove that Mousavi was headed for a landslide victory. A victory for Mousavi was described as a victory for the ‘voices of moderation’, at least the White House’s version of that vacuous cliché. Prominent liberal academics deduced the vote count was fraudulent because the opposition candidate, Mousavi, lost in his own ethnic enclave among the Azeris. Other academics claimed that the ‘youth vote’ – based on their interviews with upper and middle-class university students from the neighborhoods of Northern Tehran were overwhelmingly for the ‘reformist’ candidate.

What is astonishing about the West’s universal condemnation of the electoral outcome as fraudulent is that not a single shred of evidence in either written or observational form has been presented either before or a week after the vote count. During the entire electoral campaign, no credible (or even dubious) charge of voter tampering was raised. As long as the Western media believed their own propaganda of an immanent victory for their candidate, the electoral process was described as highly competitive, with heated public debates and unprecedented levels of public activity and unhindered by public proselytizing. The belief in a free and open election was so strong that the Western leaders and mass media believed that their favored candidate would win.

The Western media relied on its reporters covering the mass demonstrations of opposition supporters, ignoring and downplaying the huge turnout for Ahmadinejad. Worse still, the Western media ignored the class composition of the competing demonstrations – the fact that the incumbent candidate was drawing his support from the far more numerous poor working class, peasant, artisan and public employee sectors while the bulk of the opposition demonstrators was drawn from the upper and middle class students, business and professional class.

Moreover, most Western opinion leaders and reporters based in Tehran extrapolated their projections from their observations in the capital – few venture into the provinces, small and medium size cities and villages where Ahmadinejad has his mass base of support. Moreover the opposition’s supporters were an activist minority of students easily mobilized for street activities, while Ahmadinejad’s support drew on the majority of working youth and household women workers who would express their views at the ballot box and had little time or inclination to engage in street politics.

A number of newspaper pundits, including Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, claim as evidence of electoral fraud the fact that Ahmadinejad won 63% of the vote in an Azeri-speaking province against his opponent, Mousavi, an ethnic Azeri. The simplistic assumption is that ethnic identity or belonging to a linguistic group is the only possible explanation of voting behavior rather than other social or class interests.

A closer look at the voting pattern in the East-Azerbaijan region of Iran reveals that Mousavi won only in the city of Shabestar among the upper and the middle classes (and only by a small margin), whereas he was soundly defeated in the larger rural areas, where the re-distributive policies of the Ahmadinejad government had helped the ethnic Azeris write off debt, obtain cheap credits and easy loans for the farmers.

Mousavi did win in the West-Azerbaijan region, using his ethnic ties to win over the urban voters. In the highly populated Tehran province, Mousavi beat Ahmadinejad in the urban centers of Tehran and Shemiranat by gaining the vote of the middle and upper class districts, whereas he lost badly in the adjoining working class suburbs, small towns and rural areas.

The careless and distorted emphasis on ‘ethnic voting’ cited by writers from the Financial Times and New York Times to justify calling Ahmadinejad ‘s victory a ‘stolen vote’ is matched by the media’s willful and deliberate refusal to acknowledge a rigorous nationwide public opinion poll conducted by two US experts just three weeks before the vote, which showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin – even larger than his electoral victory on June 12. This poll revealed that among ethnic Azeris, Ahmadinejad was favored by a 2 to 1 margin over Mousavi, demonstrating how class interests represented by one candidate can overcome the ethnic identity of the other candidate (Washington Post June 15, 2009). The poll also demonstrated how class issues, within age groups, were more influential in shaping political preferences than ‘generational life style’. According to this poll, over two-thirds of Iranian youth were too poor to have access to a computer and the 18-24 year olds “comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all groups” (Washington Porst June 15, 2009).

The only group, which consistently favored Mousavi, was the university students and graduates, business owners and the upper middle class. The ‘youth vote’, which the Western media praised as ‘pro-reformist’, was a clear minority of less than 30% but came from a highly privileged, vocal and largely English speaking group with a monopoly on the Western media. Their overwhelming presence in the Western news reports created what has been referred to as the ‘North Tehran Syndrome’, for the comfortable upper class enclave from which many of these students come. While they may be articulate, well dressed and fluent in English, they were soundly out-voted in the secrecy of the ballot box.

In general, Ahmadinejad did very well in the oil and chemical producing provinces. This may have be a reflection of the oil workers’ opposition to the ‘reformist’ program, which included proposals to ‘privatize’ public enterprises. Likewise, the incumbent did very well along the border provinces because of his emphasis on strengthening national security from US and Israeli threats in light of an escalation of US-sponsored cross-border terrorist attacks from Pakistan and Israeli-backed incursions from Iraqi Kurdistan, which have killed scores of Iranian citizens. Sponsorship and massive funding of the groups behind these attacks is an official policy of the US from the Bush Administration, which has not been repudiated by President Obama; in fact it has escalated in the lead-up to the elections.

What Western commentators and their Iranian protégés have ignored is the powerful impact which the devastating US wars and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan had on Iranian public opinion: Ahmadinejad’s strong position on defense matters contrasted with the pro-Western and weak defense posture of many of the campaign propagandists of the opposition.

The great majority of voters for the incumbent probably felt that national security interests, the integrity of the country an d the social welfare system, with all of its faults and excesses, could be better defended and improved with Ahmadinejad than with upper-class technocrats supported by Western-oriented privileged youth who prize individual life styles over community values and solidarity.

The demography of voting reveals a real class polarization pitting high income, free market oriented, capitalist individualists against working class, low income, community based supporters of a ‘moral economy’ in which usury and profiteering are limited by religious precepts. The open attacks by opposition economists of the government welfare spending, easy credit and heavy subsidies of basic food staples did little to ingratiate them with the majority of Iranians benefiting from those programs. The state was seen as the protector and benefactor of the poor workers against the ‘market’, which represented wealth, power, privilege and corruption. The Opposition’s attack on the regime’s ‘intransigent’ foreign policy and positions ‘alienating’ the West only resonated with the liberal university students and import-export business groups. To many Iranians, the regime’s military buildup was seen as having prevented a US or Israeli attack.

The scale of the opposition’s electoral deficit should tell us is how out of touch it is with its own people’s vital concerns. It should remind them that by moving closer to Western opinion, they re moved themselves from the everyday interests of security, housing, jobs and subsidized food prices that make life tolerable for those living below the middle class and outside the privileged gates of Tehran University.

Amhadinejad’s electoral success, seen in historical comparative perspective should not be a surprise. In similar electoral contests between nationalist-populists against pro-Western liberals, the populists have won. Past examples include Peron in Argentina and, most recently, Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and even Lula da Silva in Brazil, all of whom have demonstrated an ability to secure close to or even greater than 60% of the vote in free elections. The voting majorities in these countries prefer social welfare over unrestrained markets, national security over alignments with military empires.

The consequences of the electoral victory of Ahmadinejad are open to debate. The US may conclude that continuing to back a vocal, but badly defeated, minority has few prospects for securing concessions on nuclear enrichment and an abandonment of Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas. A realistic approach would be to open a wide-ranging discussion with Iran, and acknowledging, as Senator Kerry recently pointed out, that enriching uranium is not an existential threat to anyone. This approach would sharply differ from the approach of American Zionists, embedded in the Obama regime, who follow Israel’s lead of pushing for a preempti ve war with Iran and use the specious argument that no negotiations are possible with an ‘illegitimate’ government in Tehran which ‘stole an election’.

Recent events suggest that political leaders in Europe, and even some in Washington, do not accept the Zionist-mass media line of ‘stolen elections’. The White House has not suspended its offer of negotiations with the newly re-elected government but has focused rather on the repression of the opposition protesters (and not the vote count). Likewise, the 27 nation European Union expressed ‘serious concern about violence’ and called for the “aspirations of the Iranian people to be achieved through peaceful means and that freedom of expression be respected” (Financial Times June 16, 2009 p.4). Except for Sarkozy of France, no EU leader has questioned the outcome of the voting.

The wild card in the aftermath of the elections is the Israeli response: Netanyahu has signaled to his American Zionist followers that they should use the hoax of ‘electoral fraud’ to exert maximum pressure on the Obama regime to end all plans to meet with the newly re-elected Ahmadinejad regime.

Paradoxically, US commentators (left, right and center) who bought into the electoral fraud hoax are inadvertently providing Netanyahu and his American followers with the arguments and fabrications: Where they see religious wars, we see class wars; where they see electoral fraud, we see20imperial destabilization.

James Petras is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by James Petras

11-28

ACLU Condemns Charity Closings

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Duke Helfand

The federal government’s crackdown on suspected terrorism financing since the 9/11 attacks has violated the rights of US Muslim charities and deterred Muslims from charitable giving, the ACLU said last Tuesday.

An expansion of laws and policies since 2001 has given the US Treasury in particular virtually unchecked authority to designate charities as terrorist organizations and freeze assets without adequate safeguards to protect against mistakes or abuse, the study concluded.

It said that such sweeping powers, combined with the FBI interviewing Muslim donors and putting mosques under surveillance, has created a climate of fear among Muslims. Donors have been reluctant to fulfill their religious obligation to give zakat, or charity, one of the “five pillars” of Islam, for fear of being arrested, deported, denied citizenship or prosecuted retroactively for donations made in good faith.

“Giving charity is a central part of being Muslim, so it weighs heavily on them that they cannot practice a key tenet of their faith,” said ACLU researcher Jennifer Turner, who based her findings on interviews with 120 Muslim community leaders, donors and former government officials.

In a statement, the Treasury Department, which is responsible for oversight of charitable activity, said it attempts to help the charitable community protect against terrorist abuses.

“We’re hopeful this ongoing communication will ensure all charitable groups, regardless of religious affiliation, have the ability to provide assistance where it’s needed most, without empowering terrorist organizations,” the agency said.

In his speech in Cairo this month, President Obama addressed the oversight of Muslim charities, saying the “rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.”

Civil libertarians and Muslim advocates say the new administration has yet to actually address the problems. The ACLU said federal policies have led to closures of nine Muslim charities in Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon and other states.

The leaders of one former charity, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, were convicted in November of funneling more than $12 million to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The US designated Hamas a terrorist organization, making contributions to it illegal. Two founding members of Holy Land, once the nation’s largest Muslim charity, were each sentenced last month to 65 years in prison.

Still, Muslim advocates and the ACLU said the government has seized the assets of other charities without charging them with a crime, driving charitable giving underground and undermined diplomatic efforts in Muslim countries, they said.

“This is an issue that not only goes to religious giving, but we see this as critical to our continued integration and participation in American public life,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy and education organization based in San Francisco.

“To be engaged in public life, we need to feel comfortable supporting our community institutions,” she said.

11-27

“Where’s My Vote?”

June 18, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

“The tree of liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

–Thomas Jefferson

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An Iranian demonstrator shows a placard against Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a demonstration outside the United Nations office in Kuala Lumpur June 15, 2009. Malaysian police used teargas to break up a crowd of around 500 Iranians demonstrating outside the United Nations mission against Iran’s contested presidential election, a Reuters photographer said.

REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

United by the common rallying cry composed of a mere three words,  “Where’s my vote?”, enraged Iranian protestors hit the streets this past Saturday in a show of defiance against the reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  They numbered in the millions as they filled the streets to march against perceived election fraud.  The popular candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was seemingly robbed of certain victory as he received overwhelming support during his candidacy.  Over the course of less than a week protestors have clashed with security personnel and pro-Ahmadinejad supporters on a daily basis.  The result has been several horrendous and often vicious encounters that have played out on live TV and social networking sites on the Internet.  Many protestors have been beaten to a bloody pulp and some have lost their lives in this unwinnable battle of hearts and minds. Iranian security forces show no mercy as they beat anyone, including women, with their batons. There have also been several recent reports of protestors being shot at with live ammunition, with at least seven protestors having been shot to death.

One would expect the commander in chief of any nation to calm the storm until cooler heads prevailed. Not Ahmadinejad, who is relentlessly holding on to his stifling reign of dictatorship. Instead of rising above the controversy, he is stirring the pot to keep the tensions at a fever pitch. Perhaps his strategy is to keep his detractors busy so that no one can challenge his win or recount the ballots.  Why else would he clamp down so hard on media reports in Iran? Some journalists have been arrested while others have been forbidden from filming the bloody protests, Iranian reformists have been detained and telecommunications have been blocked.

But somehow, some way, the information keeps flowing.  The battle has moved into cyberspace where it began and has taken on a life of its own to tell the world about the injustice being meted out to an innocent populous. Once again social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been fundamental in uniting pro-Mousavi Iranians into a central force as well as harnessing global condemnation regarding the brutality in which demonstrators have been dealt with.  Not since President Obama’s candidacy for the White House has there been such a political revolution been played out in cyberspace.  In this case, American-operated websites have been vital in keeping the stream of information running. Twitter cancelled a scheduled site maintenance and rescheduled it to coincide with the Iranian time zone, which came at the request of no other than President Obama. YouTube has also been a willingly ally and has kept video footage of demonstrations up on its website. Normally, YouTube’s policy is to remove violent videos, but plans to leave the Iranian protest videos up for their “documentary” value.

As of press time, it seems that a minuscule wind of hope is beginning to blow into the Iranian capital of Tehran. The Ayatollah Khameni has promised a partial recount of the votes in question under the auspices of representatives of both parties. Meanwhile, the fight goes on in the Iranian streets with both sides refusing to coalesce. Rallies for both sides were held on Tuesday. Touting a ban on public gatherings, opposition leaders have scheduled even more rallies in the coming days.

11-26

The Big Hate

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Krugman

Back in April, there was a huge fuss over an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security warning that current conditions resemble those in the early 1990s — a time marked by an upsurge of right-wing extremism that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Conservatives were outraged. The chairman of the Republican National Committee denounced the report as an attempt to “segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration” and label them as terrorists.

But with the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion fanatic, closely followed by a shooting by a white supremacist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the analysis looks prescient.

There is, however, one important thing that the D.H.S. report didn’t say: Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.

Now, for the most part, the likes of Fox News and the R.N.C. haven’t directly incited violence, despite Bill O’Reilly’s declarations that “some” called Dr. Tiller “Tiller the Baby Killer,” that he had “blood on his hands,” and that he was a “guy operating a death mill.” But they have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric, just as they did the last time a Democrat held the White House.

And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.

Exhibit A for the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism is Fox News’s new star, Glenn Beck. Here we have a network where, like it or not, millions of Americans get their news — and it gives daily airtime to a commentator who, among other things, warned viewers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be building concentration camps as part of the Obama administration’s “totalitarian” agenda (although he eventually conceded that nothing of the kind was happening).

But let’s not neglect the print news media. In the Bush years, The Washington Times became an important media player because it was widely regarded as the Bush administration’s house organ. Earlier this week, the newspaper saw fit to run an opinion piece declaring that President Obama “not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself,” and that in any case he has “aligned himself” with the radical Muslim Brotherhood.

And then there’s Rush Limbaugh. His rants today aren’t very different from his rants in 1993. But he occupies a different position in the scheme of things. Remember, during the Bush years Mr. Limbaugh became very much a political insider. Indeed, according to a recent Gallup survey, 10 percent of Republicans now consider him the “main person who speaks for the Republican Party today,” putting him in a three-way tie with Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich. So when Mr. Limbaugh peddles conspiracy theories — suggesting, for example, that fears over swine flu were being hyped “to get people to respond to government orders” — that’s a case of the conservative media establishment joining hands with the lunatic fringe.

It s not surprising, then, that politicians are doing the same thing. The R.N.C. says that “the Democratic Party is dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals.” And when Jon Voight, the actor, told the audience at a Republican fund-raiser this week that the president is a “false prophet” and that “we and we alone are the right frame of mind to free this nation from this Obama oppression,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, thanked him, saying that he “really enjoyed” the remarks.

Credit where credit is due. Some figures in the conservative media have refused to go along with the big hate — people like Fox’s Shepard Smith and Catherine Herridge, who debunked the attacks on that Homeland Security report two months ago. But this doesn’t change the broad picture, which is that supposedly respectable news organizations and political figures are giving aid and comfort to dangerous extremism.

What will the consequences be? Nobody knows, of course, although the analysts at Homeland Security fretted that things may turn out even worse than in the 1990s — that thanks, in part, to the election of an African-American president, “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”

And that’s a threat to take seriously. Yes, the worst terrorist attack in our history was perpetrated by a foreign conspiracy. But the second worst, the Oklahoma City bombing, was perpetrated by an all-American lunatic. Politicians and media organizations wind up such people at their, and our, peril.

11-26

Reality Check for Obama in Afghanistan

February 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

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

Courtesy Walter Rodgers

 

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

REUTERS/Oleg Popov  

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

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

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

Sharp lessons from the Soviets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No good options left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Open Letter–From Pakistan–To President Obama

February 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imran Khan

The U.S. and NATO should withdraw from Afghanistan.

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Picture:  Imran Khan (right) Greets AQ Khan upon the latter’s release from house arrest.  Reuters

 

Dear President Obama,

Your extraordinary ascent to the U.S. Presidency is, to a large part, a reflection of your remarkable ability to mobilize society, particularly the youth, with the message of “change.” Indeed, change is what the world is yearning for after eight long and almost endless years of carnage let loose by a group of neo-cons that occupied the White House.

Understandably, your overarching policy focus would be the security and welfare of all U.S. citizens and so it should be. Similarly, our first and foremost concern is the protection of Pakistani lives and the prosperity of our society. We may have different social and cultural values, but we share the fundamental values of peace, harmony, justice and equality before law.

No people desire change more than the people of Pakistan, as we have suffered the most since 9/11, despite the fact that none of the perpetrators of the acts of terrorism unleashed on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, were Pakistani. Our entire social, political and economic fabric is in a state of meltdown. Our sovereignty, dignity and self-respect have been trampled upon. The previous U.S. administration invested in dictators and corrupt politicians by providing them power crutches in return for total compliance to pursue its misconceived war on terror.

There are many threats confronting our society today, including the threat of extremism. In a society where the majority is without fundamental rights, without education, without economic opportunities, without health care, the use of sheer force and loss of innocent lives continues to expand the extremist fringe and contract the space for the moderate majority.

Without peace and internal security, the notion of investing in development in the war zones is a pipe dream, as the anticipated benefits would never reach the people. So the first and foremost policy objective should be to restore the peace. This can only be achieved through a serious and sustained dialogue with the militants and mitigation of their genuine grievances under the ambit of our constitution and law. Since Pakistan’s founding leader signed a treaty in 1948 with the people of the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas and withdrew Pakistani troops, they had remained the most peaceful and trouble-free part of Pakistan up until the post-9/11 situation, when we were asked to deploy our troops in FATA.

Even a cursory knowledge of Pushtun history shows that for reasons of religious, cultural and social affinity, the Pushtuns on both sides of the Durand Line (which marks the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan) cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of their brethren on either side. The Pushtuns are proud of their history of resisting every invader from Alexander onwards, to the Persians, Moghuls, British and the Russians (all superpowers of their times) who were all bogged down in the Pushtun quagmire. So, no government, Pakistani or foreign, will ever be able to stop Pushtuns crossing over the 1,500-kilometer border to support their brethren in distress on either side, even if it means fighting the modern-day superpower in Afghanistan. Recent history shows how the mighty Soviet Union had to retreat from Afghanistan with its army defeated even though it had killed over a million Afghans.

To an average Pushtun, notwithstanding the U.N. Security Council sanction, the U.S. is an occupying power in Afghanistan that must be resisted. It is as simple as that. Therefore, the greatest challenge confronting U.S. policy in Afghanistan is how to change its status from an occupier to a partner. The new U.S. administration should have no doubt that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. As more innocent Pushtuns are killed, more space is created for new Taliban and even Al-Qaida recruits–revenge being an integral part of the Pushtun character. So, as with Iraq, the U.S. should give a time table for withdrawal from Afghanistan and replace NATO and U.S. forces with U.N. troops during the interim period.

The Pushtuns then should be involved in a dialogue process where they should be given a stake in the peace. As the majority’s stake in peace grows, proportionately the breeding ground for extremists shrinks.

The crucial lesson the U.S. needs to learn–and learn quickly–is that you can only win against terrorists if the majority in a community considers them terrorists. Once they become freedom fighters and heroes amongst their people, history tells us that the battle is lost.

Terrorism worldwide is an age-old phenomenon and cannot be eliminated by rampaging armies, no matter how powerful. It can only be contained by a strategy of building democratic societies and addressing the root causes of political conflicts. The democratization part of this strategy demands a strategic partnership between the West and the people of the Islamic world, who are basically demanding dignity, self-respect and the same fundamental rights as the ordinary citizen in the West enjoys. However, this partnership can only be forged if the U.S. and its close Western allies are prepared to accept and coexist with credible democratic governments in the Islamic world that may not support all U.S. policies as wholeheartedly as dictators and discredited politicians do in order to remain in power.

The roots of terror and violence lie in politics–and so does the solution. We urge the new administration to conduct a major strategic review of the U.S.-led war on terror, including the nature and kind of support that should realistically be expected of Pakistan keeping in mind its internal security interests. Linking economic assistance to sealing of its western frontier will only force the hand of a shaky and unstable government in Pakistan to use more indiscriminate force in FATA, a perfect recipe for disaster.

The stability of the region hinges on a stable Pakistan. Any assistance to improve governance and social indicators must not be conditional. For the simple reason that any improvement in the overall quality of life of ordinary citizens and more effective writ of the state would only make mainstream society less susceptible to extremism. However, if the new U.S. administration continues the Bush administration’s mantra of “do more,” to which our inept leadership is likely to respond to by using more force, Pakistan could become even more accessible to forces of extremism leading to further instability that would spread across the region, especially into India, which already faces problems of extremism and secessionist movements. Such a scenario would benefit no one–certainly not Pakistan and certainly not the U.S. That is why your message of meaningful change, Mr. President, must guide your policies in this region also.

Imran Khan is chairman and founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice), and served as an elected member of Pakistan’s parliament from 2002-08. The captain of the Pakistan team that won the cricket World Cup in 1992, he founded the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Center, the biggest charitable institution in Pakistan. He is chancellor of the University of Bradford, in the U.K.

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