Kandaharis Want Peace Talks

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service

2010-05-05T121705Z_1095639419_GM1E6551KBZ01_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

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

REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cancer – The Deadly Legacy of the Invasion of Iraq

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

New America Media, News Digest, Jalal Ghazi

Forget about oil, occupation, terrorism or even Al Qaeda. The real hazard for Iraqis these days is cancer. Cancer is spreading like wildfire in Iraq. Thousands of infants are being born with deformities. Doctors say they are struggling to cope with the rise of cancer and birth defects, especially in cities subjected to heavy American and British bombardment.

Here are a few examples. In Falluja, which was heavily bombarded by the US in 2004, as many as 25% of new- born infants have serious abnormalities, including congenital anomalies, brain tumors, and neural tube defects in the spinal cord.

The cancer rate in the province of Babil, south of Baghdad has risen from 500 diagnosed cases in 2004 to 9,082 in 2009 according to Al Jazeera English.

In Basra there were 1885 diagnosed cases of cancer in 2005. According to Dr. Jawad al Ali, director of the Oncology Center, the number increased to 2,302 in 2006 and 3,071 in 2007. Dr. Ali told Al Jazeera English that about 1,250-1,500 patients visit the Oncology Center every month now.

Not everyone is ready to draw a direct correlation between allied bombing of these areas and tumors, and the Pentagon has been skeptical of any attempts to link the two. But Iraqi doctors and some Western scholars say the massive quantities of depleted uranium used in U.S. and British bombs, and the sharp increase in cancer rates are not unconnected.

Dr Ahmad Hardan, who served as a special scientific adviser to the World Health Organization, the United Nations and the Iraqi Ministry of Health, says that there is scientific evidence linking depleted uranium to cancer and birth defects. He told Al Jazeera English, “Children with congenital anomalies are subjected to karyotyping and chromosomal studies with complete genetic back-grounding and clinical assessment. Family and obstetrical histories are taken too. These international studies have produced ample evidence to show that depleted uranium has disastrous consequences.”

Iraqi doctors say cancer cases increased after both the 1991 war and the 2003 invasion.

Abdulhaq Al-Ani, author of “Uranium in Iraq” told Al Jazeera English that the incubation period for depleted uranium is five to six years, which is consistent with the spike in cancer rates in 1996-1997 and 2008-2009.

There are also similar patterns of birth defects among Iraqi and Afghan infants who were also born in areas that were subjected to depleted uranium bombardment.

Dr. Daud Miraki, director of the Afghan Depleted Uranium and Recovery Fund, told Al Jazeera English he found evidence of the effect of depleted uranium in infants in eastern and south- eastern Afghanistan. “Many children are born with no eyes, no limbs, or tumors protruding from their mouths and eyes,” said Dr. Miraki.

It’s not just Iraqis and Afghans. Babies born to American soldiers deployed in Iraq during the 1991 war are also showing similar defects. In 2000, Iraqi biologist Huda saleh Mahadi pointed out that the hands of deformed American infants were directly linked to their shoulders, a deformity seen in Iraqi infants.

Many US soldiers are now referring to Gulf War Syndrome #2 and alleging they have developed cancer because of exposure to depleted uranium in Iraq.

But soldiers can end their exposure to depleted uranium when their service in Iraq ends. Iraqi civilians have nowhere else to go. The water, soil and air in large areas of Iraq, including Baghdad, are contaminated with depleted uranium that has a radioactive half-life of 4.5 billion years.

Dr. Doug Rokke, former director of the U.S. Army’s Depleted Uranium Project during the first Gulf War, was in charge of a project of decontaminating American tanks. He told Al Jazeera English that “it took the U.S. Department of Defense in a multi-million dollar facility with trained physicists and engineers, three years to decontaminate the 24 tanks that I sent back to the U.S.”

And he added, “What can the average Iraqi do with thousands and thousands of trash and destroyed vehicles spread across the desert and other areas?”

According to Al Jazeera, the Pentagon used more than 300 tons of depleted uranium in 1991. In 2003, the United States used more than 1,000 tons.

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How America Makes its Enemies Disappear

November 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Petra Bartosiewicz, Harpers

When I first read the U.S. government’s complaint against Aafia Siddiqui, who is awaiting trial in a Brooklyn detention center on charges of attempting to murder a group of U.S. Army officers and FBI agents in Afghanistan, the case it described was so impossibly convoluted—and yet so absurdly incriminating—that I simply assumed she was innocent. According to the complaint, on the evening of July 17, 2008, several local policemen discovered Siddiqui and a young boy loitering about a public square in Ghazni. She was carrying instructions for creating “weapons involving biological material,” descriptions of U.S. “military assets,” and numerous unnamed “chemical substances in gel and liquid form that were sealed in bottles and glass jars.” Siddiqui, an MIT-trained neuroscientist who lived in the United States for eleven years, had vanished from her hometown in Pakistan in 2003, along with all three of her children, two of whom were U.S. citizens. The complaint does not address where she was those five years or why she suddenly decided to emerge into a public square outside Pakistan and far from the United States , nor does it address why she would do so in the company of her American son. Various reports had her married to a high-level Al Qaeda operative, running diamonds out of Liberia for Osama bin Laden, and abetting the entry of terrorists into the United States . But those reports were countered by rumors that Siddiqui actually had spent the previous five years in the maw of the U.S. intelligence system—that she was a ghost prisoner, kidnapped by Pakistani spies, held in secret detention at a U.S. military prison, interrogated until she could provide no further intelligence, then spat back into the world in the manner most likely to render her story implausible. These dueling narratives of terrorist intrigue and imperial overreach were only further confounded when Siddiqui finally appeared before a judge in a Manhattan courtroom on August 5. Now, two weeks after her capture, she was bandaged and doubled over in a wheelchair, barely able to speak, because—somehow—she had been shot in the stomach by one of the very soldiers she stands accused of attempting to murder.

It is clear that the CIA and the FBI believed Aafia Siddiqui to be a potential source of intelligence and, as such, a prized commodity in the global war on terror. Every other aspect of the Siddiqui case, though, is shrouded in rumor and denial, with the result that we do not know, and may never know, whether her detention has made the United States any safer. Even the particulars of the arrest itself, which took place before a crowd of witnesses near Ghazni’s main mosque, are in dispute. According to the complaint, Siddiqui was detained not because she was wanted by the FBI but simply because she was loitering in a “suspicious” manner; she did not speak the local language and she was not escorted by an adult male. What drove her to risk such conspicuous behavior has not been revealed. When I later hired a local reporter in Afghanistan to re-interview several witnesses, the arresting officer, Abdul Ghani, said Siddiqui had been carrying “a box with some sort of chemicals,” but a shopkeeper named Farhad said the police had found only “a lot of papers.” Hekmat Ullah, who happened to be passing by at the time of her arrest, said Siddiqui “was attacking everyone who got close to her”—a detail that is not mentioned in the complaint. A man named Mirwais, who had come to the mosque that day to pray, said he saw police handcuff Siddiqui, but Massoud Nabizada, the owner of a local pharmacy, said the police had no handcuffs, “so they used her scarf to tie her hands.” What everyone appears to agree on is this: an unknown person called the police to warn that a possible suicide bomber was loitering outside a mosque; the police arrested Siddiqui and her son; and, Afghan sovereignty notwithstanding, they then dispatched the suspicious materials, whatever they were, to the nearest U.S. military base.

The events of the following day are also subject to dispute. According to the complaint, a U.S. Army captain and a warrant officer, two FBI agents, and two military interpreters came to question Siddiqui at Ghazni’s police headquarters. The team was shown to a meeting room that was partitioned by a yellow curtain. “None of the United States personnel were aware,” the complaint states, “that Siddiqui was being held, unsecured, behind the curtain.” No explanation is offered as to why no one thought to look behind it. The group sat down to talk and, in another odd lapse of vigilance, “the Warrant Officer placed his United States Army M-4 rifle on the floor to his right next to the curtain, near his right foot.” Siddiqui, like a villain in a stage play, reached from behind the curtain and pulled the three-foot rifle to her side. She unlatched the safety. She pulled the curtain “slightly back” and pointed the gun directly at the head of the captain. One of the interpreters saw her. He lunged for the gun. Siddiqui shouted, “Get the fuck out of here!” and fired twice. She hit no one. As the interpreter wrestled her to the ground, the warrant officer drew his sidearm and fired “approximately two rounds” into Siddiqui’s abdomen. She collapsed, still struggling, then fell unconscious.

The authorities in Afghanistan describe a different series of events. The governor of Ghazni Province , Usman Usmani, told my local reporter that the U.S. team had “demanded to take over custody” of Siddiqui. The governor refused. He could not release Siddiqui, he explained, until officials from the counterterrorism department in Kabul arrived to investigate. He proposed a compromise: the U.S. team could interview Siddiqui, but she would remain at the station. In a Reuters interview, however, a “senior Ghazni police officer” suggested that the compromise did not hold. The U.S. team arrived at the police station, he said, and demanded custody of Siddiqui, the Afghan officers refused, and the U.S. team proceeded to disarm them. Then, for reasons unexplained, Siddiqui herself somehow entered the scene. The U.S. team, “thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and took her.”

Siddiqui’s own version of the shooting is less complicated. As she explained it to a delegation of Pakistani senators who came to Texas to visit her in prison a few months after her arrest, she never touched anyone’s gun, nor did she shout at anyone or make any threats. She simply stood up to see who was on the other side of the curtain and startled the soldiers. One of them shouted, “She is loose,” and then someone shot her. When she regained consciousness she heard someone else say, “We could lose our jobs.”

Siddiqui’s trial is scheduled for this November. The charges against her stem solely from the shooting incident itself, not from any alleged act of terrorism. The prosecutors provide no explanation for how a scientist, mother, and wife came to be charged as a dangerous felon. Nor do they account for her missing years, or her two other children, who still are missing. What is known is that the United States wanted her in 2003, and it wanted her again in 2008, and now no one can explain why.

Petra Bartosiewicz is a writer living in Brooklyn . Her last story for Harper’s Magazine, “I.O.U. One Terrorist,” appeared in the August 2005 issue.

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