Imran Khan: Unplugged

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Love him or hate him, you can no longer ignore him. Following the Lahore rally, Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf have emerged as a force on the field of Pakistani politics.
But to many he is still a mystery: is he a superstar, a philanthropist, a politician, or all three? Who is he really, and what does he stand for?

Imran Khan

Q: Some call you Taliban Khan, and some call you Inqilab Khan. So the first question I want to ask is: will the real Imran Khan please stand up?
Imran Khan (IK): (laughs) … You missed out one thing… I’m also part of the Jewish lobby.

Q: And of course you’re a slave of the US and Europe, according to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

IK: And according to PML-N, there is also a Jewish conspiracy going on.

Q: So we need the real Imran to tell us who he is. First, let’s talk about Shah Mahmood Qureshi. After his resignation, he can either go for the Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) or the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), and now you’re going to tell us which one it is.

IK: I’m hoping he joins PTI because he fits the profile of what I expect a PTI office bearer to be. He’s honest, a clean politician who is educated and is a bit of an anomaly in this system. He has a vote bank and has a lot of political experience which our party lacks because we’ve got new people. Here is someone who started from the union council level and has been contesting elections for years and so he brings in a lot of experience.

Q: On the point of new people joining the party, one of the statements you made recently is that PTI will not award tickets to corrupt people and opportunists…but can those corrupt people and opportunists still join your party?

IK: If someone is a known crook then they can’t join the party, but there are a lot of shades of grey. This is a society where it is difficult to be honest, and even if you try to be honest, society forces you to be dishonest. For example, I was trying to transfer land from my ex-wife’s name to mine and it took me one year just to have a simple transfer done. I kept asking my lawyer why it’s taking so long and, without telling me, he eventually bribed the patwari because otherwise it would have gone on forever! So to say that we will find angels here is not possible. But we will try and sift through relatively better politicians. For instance, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Mian Azhar are clear-cut choices.

Q: Why is Mian Azhar a clear-cut option? A lot of people are criticising that decision because Mian Azhar was the head of the PML-Q under Pervez Musharraf and he lost the elections in 2002 so why him?

IK: Because he is honest and nobody has accused him of corruption. If we exclude everyone who has changed parties or is of a slightly different ideology then it will be impossible to get anyone. So we have decided that it is financial corruption we’ll concentrate on, which is the biggest reason why we are in the state we are today. If we can fight corruption in Pakistan then the country becomes viable.

Q: But don’t you see a contradiction there when you have somebody like Mian Azhar who represents the old status quo politics and you say you are representing ‘new’ politics?

IK: It’s not a contradiction and I’ll tell you why. It’s because revolutions are not brought about by political workers. It’s the leadership that comes up with a certain ideology. I remember Fidel Castro saying that he started the Cuban Revolution with 16 people who formed his ideological core. The most invaluable part of the PTI are the core workers and office bearers who have survived 15 years in the wilderness. I mean, we have passed through the most difficult test where everyone wrote us off. So those people who stuck it out were the ideological workers and office bearers. Everyone can join and there are a lot of people joining but the ideology of PTI will be protected by this old guard.

Q: Is the real Imran Khan a risk taker?

IK: Imran Khan was always a risk taker. Everyone said “Minar-e-Pakistan! Oh you’re doomed now” and of course Shahbaz Sharif and Nawaz Sharif had their own rally in quite a small venue, despite full administrative support, so everyone said you’re taking a huge risk with Minar-e-Pakistan. But anyone who has achieved anything in life has always been a risk taker.

Q: So what happened that day on October 30th when you arrived at the venue and saw all those people? What was your instant reaction?

IK: You know I had four interviews before the 30th and in each interview I said that there will be over a hundred thousand people at the rally. When I said that we will sweep the elections, people laughed! And I actually made a bet with Talat Hussain on Kashif Abbasi’s programme saying that we will sweep the elections. He was very cynical about it and then on another programme I gave him in writing that the PTI will sweep the elections. The reason was…and I’ve never said this before…the reason was in the past year I’ve seen the people change. That’s because I’m probably the only politician who was going around holding public rallies because others were too scared. I could see that the youth had suddenly woken up and decided that there was only one party that stood for the change they wanted. So each rally was larger than the last. So when it came to the Lahore rally, I felt it would be a big success and I was very relaxed. My party workers were worried but I was relaxed about it.

Q: When I first interviewed you in Lahore in 1997, the PTI was quite new. It was your first time in politics and I remember quite clearly at that time you had said corruption is the most serious problem affecting this country and that all corrupt people should be hanged. There was a certain naivety that you had at that time. The Imran Khan sitting in front of me here today…how has he changed?

IK: This is a country where thousands of children die from waterborne diseases, where over 1,600 people have committed suicide because they can’t feed their families and here are these criminals siphoning off billions of dollars. My instinct is against capital punishment, but these people are taking lives and I do believe that to stop the plunder of this country, for a while there should be capital punishment above a certain level of corruption. I was in China recently and they had a huge problem with corruption but then 150 state ministers were imprisoned and some were even executed and the problem has been largely controlled.

As for the other question, yes I was completely naive! I’d approach politicians with all sincerity and say ‘you should join me because we want to change this country’ and now when I look back I realise they must have thought what an idiot I was! Because I was being sincere and thought they’d all join me just because of that. But now of course, they’re all joining but they don’t join simply because you are sincere.

Q: Then why do they join?

IK: They join because they have invested a lot in their constituencies. Some of them will join because they are total opportunists and think you are going to win. Others (I think) want to join you but feel you’re not viable. They feel they’ve done a lot of work and built a vote bank and don’t want to join someone who is sincere but unviable.

Q: You say corruption causes billions of dollars in losses and that you want to bring back the money and assets that are in the Swiss banks. How are you going to do this? What is your game plan?

IK: Firstly it is important to know that only a government that is clean can bring that money back. I don’t know if you saw Rehman Malik’s comment after Shahbaz Sharif’s rally on the 28th where Shahbaz said “We’ll bring back the Swiss money,” so Rehman Malik the next day said, “the Sharifs better be careful because we know where all their foreign assets are and we know all the corruption cases against them so they better not cross this line.” In other words they are saying, “let’s keep sparring but let’s not cross a certain point” because they know that once an accountability process starts, both of them will be affected. So you need a clean government to do this. Secondly, the world has changed. Once you start corruption proceedings against anyone with foreign assets, as with (former Tunisian president) Zine Abedin Ben Ali, (former Egyptian president) Hosni Mubarak and Qaddafi, all their foreign assets are immediately frozen. We are no longer in the old days where you could hide your money in Swiss banks. Now there is a money trail, so if a government has the will and there are people who cannot explain their assets, it can get this done. That’s why our main campaign is to have politicians declare their assets.

Q: But all these politicians declare their assets before the Election Commission. You don’t consider that viable?

IK: It is so obvious that they have concealed their real assets. That is why someone as rich as Nawaz Sharif will only pay Rs5,000 in tax. Then there’s me, a politician who was a professional cricketer for 18 years and I earned most of my money abroad. And all my money is in Pakistan and declared in my name. So how is it that these people, who only earned or plundered money from Pakistan, have assets abroad? They even sent the money abroad through hawala and other channels and laundered it. That’s why we insist that politicians must declare their assets.

Q: Do you seriously think they will?

IK: We have now set up a cell to bring out the real assets. So we will see what they have concealed even if they want to hide it.

Q: Leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the PML-N says if you have proof you should go to the courts.

IK: We might do that, but the problem is that it is the duty of the state to stop corrupt people. Instead here is a state which protects criminals. Here the judgments of the Supreme Court are ignored by all. When the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was annulled, why did the PML-N not do anything in the assemblies? Why did they sit around? If they are a genuine opposition, they should have stood up. But the problem is that the PML-N leadership has a number of corruption cases against it so it’s a “you scratch my back I scratch yours” situation. It became the friendliest opposition which is why now you’re seeing them panicking and going for a “Go Zardari Go” campaign because they have suddenly realised that the PTI has now taken over as the main opposition and they are trying to reoccupy that space which they have lost.

Q: Why is the PTI opening up multiple fronts simultaneously? With the PML-N, the PPP and the MQM. The only people you haven’t attacked yet are the ANP and I suspect that is not too far in the list at this point.

IK: We are not attacking parties, but the status quo as represented by the PML-N and the PPP. In sports we learn that you have to know your enemy and then go for them. Who is destroying this country? It’s the two main parties and their interests are the same. They have been in this coalition for almost all the time since 2008 and now they are trying to pretend they are actually in opposition with each other because they are threatened by us. Threatened by the tsunami that is coming. When they attack each other, it’s like watching a fixed match!

Q: You have always strongly opposed drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. You have declared the war on terror an American war and vowed to hang all those responsible for the deaths of the over 35,000 people killed in terror attacks as well as drone strikes. This will probably confuse a lot of people. Who exactly do you hold responsible?

IK: First, let me make it clear that I never used the word hang. I said we would bring them to justice. The reason is this country has had 35,000 to 40,000 people dead and more are dying every day. Zardari says the country has lost $70 billion, which means the people have lost this money. The government has got $20 billion, but we don’t know where it went because the people are getting poorer and there are three and a half million people who have been displaced and the entire tribal belt has been devastated. People have been devastated; you cannot imagine the way they are living because no one is allowed to go in there and see. Life is hell for them. So, why did we get into this? We were not involved in 9/11, no Pakistani was involved. Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan, there were no militant Taliban in Pakistan and in any case the Taliban were not terrorists, but fundamentalists. We went in for dollars. Our ruling elite have always sold us for dollars. Some 20 years ago we were in this for dollars again, acting as a frontline state. We were creating jihadis for dollars then and now we are taking dollars to kill the same people. After 9/11 we should have helped the US, just as we should help any country suffering from terrorism, but not like this. We have created terrorists at home.

Q: What kind of help would you have offered?

IK: If there was any information about the plot, about the plotters, then we should have provided it to them.  But help doesn’t mean that we should have handed over our civilians for bounty and have them end up in Guantanamo. We did a U-turn, we turned people who were our allies into our enemies. The Afghan Taliban government, as far as I am concerned, was a pro-Pakistan government.

Q: The Taliban government in Afghanistan was a pro-Pakistan government?

IK: They were not giving us any problems and Pakistan had recognised them. Now if the US had an issue with them, we should have stayed neutral. Why did we have to get into this mess? The reason we are in these top ten failed states lists is because the ruling elite has sold us for dollars.

Q: Let’s get specific. You say that there are one million armed people in the tribal areas who, if the drone attacks stopped, would happily remove terrorists living in their areas. Isn’t that a little unrealistic? We know that these people have been taking money [from militants], we know that they have been supporting militancy in many ways. The general perception is that withdrawing the Pakistani army from the tribal areas would allow militants to regroup.

IK: The general perception is there because of total ignorance, people have absolutely no idea about the tribal areas. The politicians don’t know about it, and no one knows the history of the tribal areas. When the great Quaid-e-Azam withdrew the Pakistani army from the tribal areas in 1948, the politicians said, “Don’t withdraw the Pakistani army, we will have problems.” What happened? We never had one problem in the tribal areas ever since we withdrew the army although we deprived [the tribals], we never helped them, never spent any money on them. We kept them backwards but still there was never any problem for Pakistan. If anything, they helped us and were always ready to help Pakistan. The number one question is: why was the whole tribal belt not on fire before? Do you know that we started military operations in early 2004 and it took three years of collateral damage to produce what are called the Pakistan Taliban. This was a reaction to the military operations.

Q: So what is your counter-narrative?

IK:  There is only one way to understand, we have to get people on board who know the area. There are generals and diplomats, like Rustam Shah Mohmand, people who know the tribal area. Ask them what the answer is. The politicians have completely sublet the whole war to the army, and which civilian government allows the army to run a war? If I was prime minister, would I allow the army to make all the decisions? No. I am a politician and politicians look for political solutions, not military solutions. Especially if those solutions have failed for seven years. What have we achieved in seven years? What has the US achieved in 10 years in Afghanistan? Nothing. If anything, radicalisation in Pakistan has grown. So we have actually made the situation much worse. So if you speak to anyone who has any understanding of the tribal areas, there is only one solution: win the people of the tribal areas to your side, start truth and reconciliation, say that we are no longer a part of this American war on terror. They consider the Pakistan army to be fighting on behalf of the Americans as a mercenary army.

Q: I want to throw one word into the equation: Swat.

IK: Please understand that Swat has nothing to do with the tribal areas. Swat was a mess we created and it could have been solved in a month. Swat is a totally different thing and unfortunately people did not understand the difference between Swat and the tribal areas and they confused the solutions of the two. The solution to the tribal areas is to get out of the US war, pull out the Pakistani army and tell the people of the tribal area, after truth and reconciliation, that it is your job to finish terrorism.

Q: Let me present an argument here.

IK: Let me give the solution here. If you empower the people of the tribal areas, get the Pakistan army out and no longer be considered a hired gun of the US, I promise you we will win this war. Otherwise, this is a never-ending war. For eighty years, the British never had peace in the tribal areas. They were a superpower. We are a country which is bankrupt. For 62 years, the Mughal Empire, which was a global superpower, fought against the tribals and eventually there was a political settlement. There is only a political settlement, and the PPP, the most incompetent and corrupt government in our history, is not going to be able to do anything. We are committing suicide. In the All Party Conference on Sept 29th, there were 50 parties and they all finally came down to what our stance has consistently been, that there is no military solution. All of them accepted that there was only one solution and that was to give peace a chance.

Q: What would you say to American policymakers who are convinced that the Haqqani network operates out of safe havens in the tribal areas? In the regional endgame when it comes to Afghanistan, what is your solution?

IK: I would tell the American policymakers: for God’s sake don’t listen to your generals. You need a political settlement, you don’t need more troops, you don’t need a surge. The surge has failed in Afghanistan. And I would ask the American politicians , is it plausible that five or six thousand Haqqani men, these fighters, these Rambos, are the reason one hundred and forty thousand soldiers of the greatest military machine in history are facing defeat? The Americans are fighting an entire population and they’ll never win the war because they don’t understand Afghan history. Read the Russian accounts; they killed a million Afghans out of a population of 60 million. They said that eventually they were fighting women, and children. The whole population was fighting.

Q: So here we come back to the same question, is Imran Khan a conservative, a fundamentalist or a liberal?

IK: You know, people pigeonhole people a lot. The only reason I wrote my book was because I was sick of the question: Are you a liberal? A fundamentalist? A radical?  What are you? I wrote this book for the young people of Pakistan because there is so much confusion here. What is Islam? What is religion? What is secularism? So to try and answer all these questions, I thought I better put all of this down in a book and try to make people understand what religion is and what spirituality is. In fact, my conclusion is that the threat to the world is not from religion because all the great religions of the world talk about humanity, justice, and the noble values of human beings. It is naked materialism we should be scared of because it’s going to destroy the globe. It’s this lust for more and more and this unfettered greed. It is this extreme form of capitalism that’s the danger.

Q: But the underpinning of modern civilisation is capitalism.

IK: But if we keep consuming at the rate we are, we are doomed. Imagine if China starts consuming, per capita, at the same rate as the US. It’ll all be over! The real issue is consumption and greed — attacking countries because you want to capture their resources, as has been done throughout history, that’s the real issue. Religion is not the issue. A true religion should make us all humane.

Q: Among many circles, the biggest fear is that Imran Khan will come to power and his coalition partner is going to be the Jamaat-e-Islami.

IK: I don’t know about the Jamaat-e-Islami, you should ask them about their agenda. But my agenda is clear, it is the agenda of Jinnah, and that of my ideological role model Iqbal. As for religion, it is a way of life, a way of being. It is religion which brings out the best in a human being. The only reason I am a politician is because my religion tells me that I have a responsibility to my society. Otherwise, I have everything I want in my life.  I don’t need anything. But it’s religion which tells you that the more God gives you, the more responsibility you have towards less privileged human beings.  And this is really why it is important to promote religious values and spiritual values as opposed to the materialistic culture which is unfortunately imbibed by our upper classes. This culture of “me” and “I” can only be countered by spirituality.

Q: One of the statements you recently made was that the ISI should be under civilian control. Are you advocating that the country’s military intelligence agencies should be brought under a civilian ministry?

IK: What I am saying is that the military should stay within its constitutional role. In a democratic government, it’s the civilian government that takes responsibility and has authority. No management structure can work if you divide it up so that someone else has the authority and someone else the responsibility. It doesn’t work. In the case of Prime Minister Gilani, he has the responsibility but President Zardari has the authority. It doesn’t work.

Q: Now another crucial question. In your rally you said you want to eradicate thana culture, the police structure in this country, and the patwaris. But here is the critical point: politics in Pakistan is very strongly based on biradaris and dharras, clans and community structures that are centuries old. How can you be okay with biradaris and say that that is part of the political process and at the same time be uprooting institutions that are also a part of the same structure?

IK: Well. First of all, if you want to bring about a change in Pakistan, the fundamental change you have to make is to empower your people. You empower your people by having a strong local government system. Western societies give freedom to their people not through a centralised system but through a devolved structure of empowering the people at the grass roots level. Now, before the British came here, under the Mughals and even before that, the village was actually empowered. The village was a self -contained unit. In fact, if you go to the tribal areas today, you will find that the village has its own jury system, it has its own parliament. It’s actually autonomous.

Q: A lot of us believe that it is a parallel judicial structure and you can’t have jirgas meting out their own brand of justice.

IK: In the tribal areas, this is not a parallel structure, it is the only structure. There is only one structure, where every village has its own jury system and it has worked very well for them, which is why they don’t want to become part of Pakistan. In Swat, one of the reasons why they started the Nifaz-e-Shariat movement is because the imposed system did not work. When Swat became part of Pakistan in 1974, Pakistani laws came in and their whole devolved structure of free justice at the village level disappeared. Suddenly they had to hire lawyers and pay fees and still had no guarantee of justice. So the poorer classes all joined this movement to bring their system back. You have to empower people at the grassroots level, in other words at the village level.

Q: But that is the level where these biradaris, powerful clans and feudals continue to dominate the lives of the people.

IK: These braderies existed before the British came but at the village level, people were empowered. Remember that it’s impossible to have a false witness at the village level. In fact, Mirza Ghalib wrote in 1860 that the first time the British introduced sessions courts was the first time [the people] started hearing of false witnesses. Sixty per cent of the issues that clog the rural courts are land issues and they should be resolved at the village level. The schools should be under the village committee, and the same goes for the local health services.

Q: Do you support biradari politics?

IK: How are you going to destroy it?

Q: How are you going to destroy thana culture?

IK: They are not linked. Thana culture is feudal and perpetuates the feudal system. The first thing a politician does when he comes into office is he gets his own thanedar and patwari in place. This is because he wants to control the thana, he wants to control the patwari and therefore he enslaves the people. What I am talking about is empowering the people through local government. One of the greatest Pakistanis was Akhtar Hameed Khan and in the Orangi Pilot Project, he proved to people that the moment you empower the people, the people can lift their own standard of living. They can look after themselves.

Q: And the problem that many people feel that the PTI is going to be mired in the politics of clans and of all of these old structures that exist. Do you think that the PTI can break free of these feudal structures as well as these biradaris?

IK: Look Quatrina, I won the election in one of the most difficult rural areas. I understand about biradari systems. The moment you destroy the oppression in the thana, you will liberate the people. How does a feudal operate? The way the feudal operates is by controlling the thana. If you liberate the people from the thana, you give them justice at the village level, which is the most important thing. That is how you will liberate the people. I went to China and understood how the Chinese got four hundred million people out of poverty in twenty years. There were some interesting ideas that came out, and one of them was how to help the small farmer. If you want to help the small farmer, you must liberate him from the thana and the patwari system.

Q: How?

IK: We have to have e-government. We have a plan through which we can implement a whole system in 90 days and bring in e-government which can not only eliminate corruption but also help people.

Q: That’s for when and if you get into government, what’s your political plan right now?

IK: We are going to have a rally in Karachi on the 25th of December. The whole objective of the rally is reconciliation. We want to bring everyone together, especially the Urdu-speaking community and the Pashtuns. We are probably the only party that can get these two ethnic groups together and not engage in the divisive politics which certain people and parties exploit. They make people fight each other and get votes and power through discord and bloodshed. Our idea is to bring about a grand reconciliation.

Q: Nawaz Sharif has now officially gone on the warpath against the government. Will you ally yourself with Nawaz Sharif for your mutual goal of removing the current administration?

IK: I think after 30 years of seeing power, it is time for Nawaz Sharif to think of retirement. Thirty years is a long time.

This interview has been adapted from the televised interview of Imran Khan by Quatrina Hosain on Witness with Quatrina, which aired on 14th November 2011

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 24th, 2011.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, redistributed or derived from.
Unless otherwise stated, all content is copyrighted © 2011 The Express Tribune News Network.
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The Express Tribune

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Pakistan ‘Punished’ in Pipelineistan

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Pepe Escobar

2011-06-24T171720Z_969297450_GM1E76P03P101_RTRMADP_3_IRAN-PAKISTAN

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) meets his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari during an official meeting in Tehran June 24, 2011.

REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

Before the end of 2011, Pakistan will start working on its stretch of the IP (Iran-Pakistan) gas pipeline – according to Asim Hussain, Pakistan’s federal minister for petroleum and natural resources. The
1,092 kilometers of pipeline on the Iranian side are already in place.

IP, also known as “the peace pipeline”, was originally IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India). Although it badly needs gas for its economic expansion, faced with immense pressure by the George W Bush – and then Barack Obama – administrations, India still has not committed to the project, even after a nearly miraculous agreement for its construction was initialed in 2008.
More than 740 million cubic feet of gas per year will start flowing to Pakistan from Iran’s giant South Pars field in the Persian Gulf by 2014. This is an immense development in the Pipelineistan “wars” in Eurasia. IP is a major node in the much-vaunted Asian Energy Security Grid – the progressive energy integration of Southwest, South, Central and East Asia that is the ultimate mantra for Eurasian players as diverse as Iran, China, India and the Central Asian “stans”.

Pakistan is an energy-poor, desperate customer of the grid. Becoming an energy transit country is Pakistan’s once-in-a-lifetime chance to transition from a near-failed state into an “energy corridor” to Asia and, why not, global markets.

And as pipelines function as an umbilical cord, the heart of the matter is that IP, and maybe IPI in the future, will do more than any form of US “aid” (or outright interference) to stabilize the Pakistan half of Obama’s AfPak theater of operations, and even possibly relieve it of its India obsession.

Another ‘axis of evil’?

This Pipelineistan development may go a long way to explain why the White House announced this past Sunday it was postponing US$800 million in military aid to Islamabad – more than a third of the annual such largess Pakistan receives from the US.

The burgeoning Pakistan-bashing industry in Washington may spin this as punishment related to the never-ending saga of Osama bin Laden being sheltered so close to Rawalpindi/Islamabad. But the measure may smack of desperation – and on top it do absolutely nothing to convince the Pakistani army to follow Washington’s agenda uncritically.

On Monday, the US State Department stressed once again that Washington expected Islamabad to do more in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency – otherwise it would not get its “aid” back. The usual diplomatic doublespeak of “constructive, collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship” remains on show – but that cannot mask the growing mistrust on both sides. The Pakistani military confirmed on the record it had not been warned of the “suspension”.

No less than $300 million of this blocked $800 million is for “American trainers” – that is, the Pentagon’s counter-insurgency brigade.

Moreover, Islamabad had already asked Washington not to send these people anymore; the fact is their methods are useless to fight the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked jihadis based in the tribal areas. Not to mention the preferred US method is the killer drone anyway.

The wall of mistrust is bound to reach Himalaya/Karakoram/Pamir proportions. Washington only sees Pakistan in “war on terror”, counter-terrorism terms. Since the coupling of the AfPak combo by the Obama administration, clearly Washington’s top war is in Pakistan – not in Afghanistan, which harbors just a handful of al-Qaeda jihadis.

Most “high-value al-Qaeda targets” are in the tribal areas in Pakistan – and they are, in a curious parallel to the Americans, essentially trainers. As for Afghanistan, it is most of all a neo-colonial North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) war against a Pashtun-majority “national liberation” movement – as Taliban leader Mullah Omar himself defined it.

Asia Times Online’s Saleem Shahzad – murdered in May – argued in his book Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban (full review coming later this week) that al-Qaeda’s master coup over the past few years was to fully relocate to the tribal areas, strengthen the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), and in a nutshell coordinate a massive Pashtun guerrilla war against the Pakistani army and the Americans – as a diversionist tactic. Al-Qaeda’s agenda – to export its caliphate-bound ideology to other parts of South and Central Asia – has nothing to do with the Mullah Omar-led Afghan Taliban, who fight to go back to power in Afghanistan.

Washington for its part wants a “stable” Afghanistan led by a convenient puppet, Hamid Karzai-style – so the holy grail (since the mid-1990s) can be achieved; the construction of IP’s rival, the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline, bypassing “evil” Iran.

And as far as Pakistan is concerned, Washington wants it to smash the Pashtun guerrillas inside their territory; otherwise the tribal areas will keep being droned to death – literally, with no regard whatsoever to territorial integrity.

No wonder the wall of mistrust will keep rising, because Islamabad’s agenda is not bound to change anytime soon. Pakistan’s Afghan policy implies Afghanistan as a vassal state – with a very weak military (what the US calls the Afghan National Force) and especially always unstable, and thus incapable of attacking the real heart of the matter: the Pashtunistan issue.

For Islamabad, Pashtun nationalism is an existential threat. So the Pakistani army may fight the Tehrik-e-Taliban-style Pashtun guerrillas, but with extreme care; otherwise Pashtuns on both side of the border may unite en masse and make a push to destabilize Islamabad for good.

On the other had, what Islamabad wants for Afghanistan is the Taliban back in power – just like the good old days of 1996-2001. That’s the opposite of what Washington wants; a long-range occupation, preferably via NATO, so the alliance may protect the TAPI pipeline, if it ever gets built. Moreover, for Washington “losing” Afghanistan and its key network of military bases so close to both China and Russia is simply unthinkable – according to the Pentagon’s full-spectrum dominance doctrine.

What’s going on at the moment is a complex war of positioning.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy – which also implies containing Indian influence in Afghanistan – won’t change. The Afghan Taliban will keep being encouraged as potential long-term allies – in the name of the unalterable “strategic depth” doctrine – and India will keep being regarded as the top strategic priority.

What IP will do is to embolden Islamabad even more – with Pakistan finally becoming a key transit corridor for Iranian gas, apart from using gas for its own needs. If India finally decides against IPI, China is ready to step on board – and build an extension from IP, parallel to the Karakoram highway, towards Xinjiang.

Either way, Pakistan wins – especially with increasing Chinese investment. Or with further Chinese military “aid”. That’s why the Pakistani army’s “suspension” by Washington is not bound to rattle too many nerves in Islamabad.

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The “Surge” in Iraq & Afghanistan

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

NATO & the Pashtuns–A Misunderstanding of Tribal Identities

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Richmond, VA–April 9th–Your narrator finds himself in the (U.S.) Civil War-era (1860s) era capital of the Confederacy (i.e., the South) where he listened to the research of a Michael Yalchi on the lack of understanding between NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the operation of tribal identity within the Southern Afghani battle theater.  This article is written with a considerable amount of your essayists own research, too.

Richmond, from which your author is reporting, is a moderate-sized (American) Revolutionary-era city of a little over 200,000, and is, also, the present-day seat of government of the current (U.S.) Commonwealth (State) of Virginia on the Atlantic seaboard a hundred miles below Washington D.C.  (Most of the American Civil War [1860-1865] was fought within this hundred miles between the two fore-mentioned two cities.)  This War fought on U.S. soil is considered the first “modern” martial dispute.

While in the Middle East, this past week (18th-24th) of the actual physical act of writing (April 23rd –26th) this article, the Libyan Civil War continues to fume, and Colonel Khadafy may even overcome his armed opposition as the battleground is raging back and forth between his divisions along with their African mercenaries against the rebels headquartered in this barren environment second city, Benghazi, the latter’s de facto capital.   Succinctly, there is no way to predict the outcome of this clash.

At the same time, British officers have been on the ground secretly for several weeks now whipping the rag-tag insurgent “military” into a credible resistance as the established government in Tripoli has ordered allied tribal leaders into the fray against a strategic dissident-held urban center.

The European Union (EU) intends to go to the Security Council of the U.N. (United Nations) in New York City to obtain the “legal” permission to plant the soldiers on the Maghreb soil there to, supposedly, institute safe-sanctuaries there.  (There was a great failure by the Dutch Army in the 1990s Bosnian War wherein Muslims were massacred by the failure of Amsterdam to enforce their assigned asylum.)  In Libya, what had started as a “no-fly” zone to protect unprotected non-combatants is, unfortunately, becoming a campaign for regime change in that North African nation.  Fortunately, Washington has pledged not to place land troops on another Islamic territory.  Hopefully, they will keep to their promise!

Concurrently, Ba’athist Syria is teetering toward a civil war; while Yemen “ancient” fissure between the North and South is beginning to crack again.  It was announced on the 23rd that Sana’a head of State was willing to step down, but this had become questionable by the 25th.  The Crown Prince of Bahrain has informed the British Royal family (the 24th) that he would not be able to attend Prince William’s wedding in London because of the unrest on his island.  Most of the other States in the Islamic West (of Dar al Islam) are in the midst of upheaval, too.  Some more dramatically and critically than others.  The end results in this overall region will depend upon how the present elites of their individual nation-states will react to their internal populist challenges.

Back to Michael Yalchi:  Iraq, which he only mentions only in passing, is, also, going through disturbance.  Strangely, if the late Bush Administration had refrained from its aggression, Sadam Hussein’s government’s days were limited anyway without so many Western allied lives lost!  Michael Yalchi did mention the success of General Petraeus’ surge in Mesopotamia, but he spent most of his time on its application on the Afghanistani battlefield.

One cannot talk about the Middle East unless one considers Afghanistan.  The U.S. strategic position is that it is on the eastern limits of American calculated policy regarding the Middle East — along with Pakistan (whose civil society is presently up in “arms” over the U.S.A’s drone [unmanned aircraft] attacks mainly in the tribal areas within their nation that may have caused as many as nine hundred non-combatant Pakistani deaths last year).    On the other hand, if you were in the Kremlin’s foreign office, the Hindu Kush Mountains is definitely part of Central Asia.  To the British and (now) New Delhi and Islamabad, it is unequivocally part of South Asia since it is solidly and historically inter-connected  to the nations across the Khyber.

In one sense, although it has an ancient history as a separate country, modern Afghanistan was a creation of the British and Russian Empires during the Nineteenth Century as a buffer zone between the two.  During the last decade of that century, the border was forced upon the tribes in the desert-like mountains (i.e., the Durand Line) to slow down what was known as the “Great Game.”  The British Indian Army had fought three disastrous wars over that world on the other side of their Line in the Nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, and the War from which Moscow had retreated in 1989 was in effect their Third Afghan War.  All (total) six Afghan Wars fought by the two dissimilar Empires ended disastrously for the European powers.  The current War is an American/NATO adventure with the puppet-placed Kabul government as ally.  The enemy, of course, is the Taliban “army” (whose mass Kandahar prison break-out this past week-end [23rd  through  24th]shows a degree of popular support and effective tactical ability).

Some political scientists have described the current dispute not as a War an Afghani War, but as a revolt of a regional sub-nationality, the Pashtuns, for self governance and unification since they are divided by the arbitrary and ill-delineated Durand Line which currently serves as the border between Islamabad and Kabul.  The War on The Afghani side of the boundary is in the South of their countryside while in Pakistan it is being waged mostly within Peshawar’s Provinces by Rawalpindi‘s army.

Since we are discussing the War about Kandahar, the demographics of Afghanistan show forty percent Pashtun (the highest single element within the total population).  Near 11 and one-half percent are of the Durrani tribal group, and almost 14 percent are Ghilzai.  The Tajiks within the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan are the second largest ethnic group with a little over 25 percent of the population.  The Hazaras stand at 18 percent while the Uzbeks that are ruled from Kabul are at slightly over 6 percent.  The Turkmen there are at 2.5 percent.  The lowest identifiable ethnic group, is the Qizilbash at 1%.  Other minuscule clusters measure about 7 percent all together.  As can be seen the mountainous nation is a multi-ethnic and, further, multi-lingual, and discord has arisen out of these issues.

Within Pakistan, on the other hand, who are divided by the aforementioned frontier from their Pashtun brothers to the north — they make up about  fifteen and one-half percent of the whole of the latter country’s population.   The Pastuns there — besides the Northwest Provinces — are largely settled in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in Baluchistan on the Iranian periphery, but pockets are scattered all over that nation-state.  Also, the Taliban themselves are mainly Pashtun, and are logically located in Afghanistan’s south and the Northwest Provinces in Pakistan’s Hindu Kush.
Back to Michael Yalchi’s comments:  The American-led coalition is attempting a surge in Afghanistan similar to the successful one in Iraq, but the tribal composition and internal identification within the two states are significantly different.  The Wickileaks of last week (18th-24th) has brought the District of Columbia’s faulty assumptions to light.  In Afghanistan, it is a social misunderstanding by NATO in how the various high tribes and sub-tribes relate amongst themselves that creates a problem for the Europeans and North Americans in their counter-insurgency.

Yalchi asserted that “Afghani (tribal) territorial ‘maps’ inform their society.”  That is, the clans are essentially local, and the division of customs, etc. between groups are determined by the harsh landscape, for they are isolated one from another, and, curiously, the same geographical constraints that make travel problematic throughout the region for Brussels (i.e., NATO‘s) armed forces has created shortcomings in the Western alliance’s rush throughout that craggy topography.

Your correspondent, who happens to be an anti-imperialist personally, desires to end this piece by stating, unlike the British in their Imperial times who would be stationed in the Mountains for thirty years, and often would take a Pashtun woman to wife, etc., and was trained to speak the local language fluently.  (In other words, although alien, he was intimate with the culture.)  The American soldiers are posted in Southern Afghanistan for about a year at a time.  Mostly, they depend upon “fixers,” a journalistic term denoting a person native to the country who leads non-indigenous individuals through the landscape, translates and arranges things with the local inhabitants.

This lack of cultural comprehension is the real reason the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s campaign in Helmet and other Provinces in the South of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is going inadequately for the Western offensive in suppressing the Taliban’s insurgency.

Whereas Michael Yalchi regulates his analysis to the NATO alliance’s lack of accomplishment to a deficiency in grasping the lack of cohesion between the clannish customs who are opposing the Western soldiers in the combat zone in the high country, your commentator would go further to say it is a total cultural insensitivity and disrespect for their Pashtun opponent.

13-18

Female Squash Player from Waziristan

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khurram Shahzad, Pakistan Link

maria-toor-608

Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Sports Pir Aftab Shah Jillani presenting Maria Toor with a cash award as her family looks on during a ceremony to reward top players on the national circuit in Islamabad.

-Photo by APP

Pakistan’s squash champion Maria Toor Pakay cut her teeth fighting boys in a tribal district synonymous with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, defying convention to become a trailblazer in her sport.

She hails from South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal belt branded by Washington as the most dangerous place in the world. It is rife with militant groups, while tribal customs often force women to remain at home.

None of that stopped 19-year-old Pakay, however, who is now Pakistan’s top-rated female squash player and the world number 85.

“I never acted like a girl and always played and fought with the tribal boys,” she told AFP in the northwestern city of Peshawar, now her home.

“My early days roaming around the Shakai streets wearing boys’ clothes and fighting against them eventually made me an independent young woman.”

Dressed in shorts and smart T-shirt, hair boyishly cut above the neck, she would stand out in her home village of Shakai, on the outskirts of South Waziristan’s capital Wana, where many women wear the all-encompassing burka.

Muscular Pakay smacks the ball against the wall almost 30 times in a minute. Face perspiring with aggression and gripping the racket tightly, she moves swiftly across the squash court.

It was Pakay’s father Shamsul Qayum, a government servant and elder of the Wazir tribe, who first noticed her athletic potential. Concerned about her days spent brawling with street boys, he decided to channel her anger into sports.

Risking the scorn of his conservative Muslim tribe, he took his daughter to Peshawar and began training her as a weightlifter.

But with few opportunities for female weightlifters in Pakistan, he was forced to disguise 10-year-old Pakay as a boy and enter her in the National Boys Weightlifting Championship under a fake boy’s name, Changez Khan.

“And Changez Khan won the championship!” Pakay says with a laugh.

“It was the first step for me, my first achievement, and then I never got scared by any pressure, restrictions or tribal tradition.”

It was a meeting soon after with former world squash champion Jansher Khan that set Pakay’s life on its current course, and in 2004 she became Pakistan’s top female squash player and started climbing the international ranks.

She has risen seven places in the world rankings in the past month, and made the semi-finals of the World Junior Squash Championship in India last year.

She is a regular player on the Malaysian circuit, and aims this year to participate in the Cayman Islands Open and the Texas Open Championship.

But her determination to defy tradition and champion girls’ sports in the conservative northwest has won her some enemies.

Taliban militants who operate across swathes of the northwest oppose co-education of girls and boys and advocate a harsh brand of law, staging bomb attacks to try and advance their aims.

“I have received some threats from unknown people who have advised me to stop playing and going out of the house, otherwise they would kill me. But they can’t detract me… I would never quit playing,” she tells AFP.

“I feel pity for other women of the area, they are confined in the walls and have no rights. I feel pity for my cousins, who don’t have rights and can’t go out, and who have to wear burkas.”

Although she is glad to be free from the restrictions of tribal customs, Pakay says she owes a great deal to her upbringing in the badlands along the Afghan border, which sit outside direct government control.

“My strong muscles are a gift from hiking the rocks of Shakai. I love the solid mountains and feel sorry that I can’t go there now,” she said.

The streets of Shakai where Pakay once fought neighborhood boys have now become a battlefield for the Taliban and Pakistan’s armed forces.

The military sent 30,000 troops into South Waziristan in October last year to try and quash Taliban strongholds, and the fighting rages on.

The instability was one of the reasons Pakay’s father wanted her to break free of the tribal region and he has nothing but pride now in his daughter’s achievements, despite the reaction from his Wazir tribe.

“They call me honorless and say you have lost pride and gone away from the traditions of Islam and the tribe,” Shamsul Qayum told AFP. “But I don’t care, I have won for my girl and her victories are my pride.”

12-17

Interview of Arundhati Roy

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arundhati Roy, welcome to Democracy Now!

ARUNDHATI ROY: Thank you, Amy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARUNDHATI ROY: OK, mm-hmm.

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

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

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

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

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

[break]

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

You recognize that music, Anjali?

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

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

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

ANJALI KAMAT: Memoranda of understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: And they were rising up for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Preconceptions, Misconceptions: Disaster in Afghanistan

March 18, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

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

By Gordon Duff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gun Culture

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

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

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

Military Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solutions?

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

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

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

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