Monday, December 29, 2008
The Israeli air strikes in Gaza have already killed more than 350 people. Below is a good four-point summary by Neve Gordon on what might be the objectives behind. Would like to add in the first point though that the objective may not be to kill Hamas, although Israel would certainly wish that. But - as the below article also states - that is not realistic. I think Israel also understands that quite well. They tried that with Hezbollah in 2006, and failed miserably. Like Hezbollah, Hamas enjoys mass support among the Palestinians and throughout the Arab/Muslim world. The Israeli objective is probably to force Hamas into a settlement based on conditions of Israel's choosing. The objective is to cut Hamas' hands, logistical and moral. Logistical in terms of further restricting their movement and activities. Moral in terms of de-legitimatizing their cause in the eyes of the world should they engage in violent resistance in future against any Israeli aggression. That also appears to be the goal behind the economic blockade in Gaza for the last several months. Haaretz reports that Israeli "Defence Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation over six months ago, even as Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas." The report also notes that about a month ago Israel deliberately flared up the tension by carrying out a military incursion in Gaza during the ceasefire.
One may also add another possibility here. Preparing vigorously since the end of the summer 2006 Lebanon war, Israel's objective may be to open two fronts, the other being South Lebanon. The objective may be limited to regaining its aura of 'invincibility' (or power of deterrence) by launching effective air raid campaigns on Gaza and South Lebanon (see point three in the below article). But the plan may also be wider in scope. Some reports indicate that Israel has already asked its residents in the North, close to the Lebanese border, to take precautionary measures, and be ready to move into protective shelters. Eight Katyusha rockets were found by a farmer on Thursday (Dec 25) in a valley in South Lebanon, two miles from the Israeli border. They were fitted with timers and set to launch on late Thursday night. This was before the Israel air raids started in Gaza on Saturday (Dec 27). In a speech on Sunday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah suggested that Israel may be looking for an excuse to attack South Lebanon, and, if Hezbollah were to make any strikes on Israel, it would do it openly. He also suggested that Israel wants to make use of the transitional period in the White House and create conditions that will shape the possibilities and constraints for the next incumbent. Nasrallah reminded people to be vigilant against Israeli plots.
On a related note, I don't think Nasrallah expects anything out of ordinary from Obama's administration. Given the team of 'hawkish-pragmatists' that Obama has assembled around himself, if that is any indicator, it seems that there won't be any significant changes to the current US policy toward the Palestine-Israel conflict. Rather it seems likely that we will see a continuation of 'creating a new middle east' agenda, under one pretext or another. The agenda is supported not only by Israel but also many Arab regimes. The current onslaught in Gaza is probably part of that plan. The US and the Arab regimes all have given a green signal to Israel.
Like in 2006 when they blamed Hezbollah, this time the status quo Arab regimes (Saudi, Egypt, Jordan) are blaming Hamas. Over the past few years, as Seymour Hersh and other noted journalists have pointed out, these regimes have actively collaborated with Israel and America to crush the resistance in Gaza and Lebanon (and the anti-dictatorial movements in their own countries).
What, Exactly, is Israel's Mission?
By Neve Gordon, CounterPunch, December 29, 2008
The first bombardment took three minutes and forty seconds. Sixty Israeli F-16 fighter jets bombed fifty sites in Gaza, killing over two hundred Palestinians, and wounding close to a thousand more.
A few hours after the deadly strike, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened a press conference in Tel-Aviv. With Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni sitting on his right and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his left, he declared: “It may take time, and each and every one of us must be patient so we can complete the mission.”
But what exactly, one might ask, is Israel’s mission?
Although Olmert did not say as much, the “mission” includes four distinct objectives.
The first is the destruction of Hamas, a totally unrealistic goal. Even though the loss of hundreds of cadres and some key leaders will no doubt hurt the organization, Hamas is a robust political movement with widespread grassroots support, and it is unlikely to surrender or capitulate to Israeli demands following a military assault. Ironically, Israel’s attempt to destroy Hamas using military force has always ended up strengthening the organization, thus corroborating the notion that power produces its own vulnerability.
The second objective has to do with Israel’s upcoming elections. The assault on Gaza is also being carried out to help Kadima and Labor defeat Likud and its leader Benjamin Netanyhu, who is currently ahead in the polls. It is not coincidental that Netanyahu’s two main competitors, Livni and Barak, were invited to the press conference – since, after the assault, it will be more difficult for Netanyahu to characterize them as “soft” on the Palestinians. Whether or not the devastation in Gaza will help Livni defeat Netanyhu or help Barak gain votes in the February elections is difficult to say, but the strategy of competing with a warmonger like Netanyhu by beating the drums of war says a great deal about all three major contenders.
The third objective involves the Israeli military. After its notable humiliation in Lebanon during the summer of 2006, the IDF has been looking for opportunities to reestablish its global standing. Last Spring it used Syria as its laboratory and now it has decided to focus on Gaza. Emphasizing the mere three minutes and forty seconds it took to bomb fifty sites is just one the ways the Israeli military aims to restore its international reputation.
Finally, Hamas and Fatah have not yet reached an agreement regarding how to proceed when Mahmoud Abbas ends his official term as President of the Palestinian National Authority on January 9th, 2009. One of the outcomes of this assault is that Abbas will remain in power for a while longer since Hamas will be unable to mobilize its supporters in order to force him to resign.
What is clearly missing from this list of Israeli objectives is the attempt to halt the firing of Qassam rockets into Israel’s southern towns. Unlike the objectives I mentioned, which are not discussed by government officials, this one is presented by the government as the operation’s primary objective. Yet, the government is actively misleading the public, since Israel could have put an end to the rockets a long time ago. Indeed, there was relative quiet during the six-months truce with Hamas, a quiet that was broken most often as a reaction to Israeli violence: that is, following the extra-judicial execution of a militant or the imposition of a total blockade which prevented basic goods, like food stuff and medicine, from entering the Gaza Strip. Rather than continuing the truce, the Israeli government has once again chosen to adopt strategies of violence that are tragically akin to the one’s deployed by Hamas, only the Israeli ones are much more lethal.
If the Israeli government really cared about its citizens and the country’s long term ability to sustain itself in the Middle East, it would abandon the use of violence and talk with its enemies.
Neve Gordon is the chair of the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and is the author of Israel’s Occupation, University of California Press, 2008. His website is www.israelsoccupation.info
Monday, December 15, 2008
Reuters, December 15, 2008
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani newspapers gave prominent coverage on Monday to a British media report that a retired general gunned down in Islamabad last month planned to blow the whistle on fellow generals' dealings with the Taliban.
Jang, Pakistan's biggest selling Urdu-language newspaper, ran a story on its front page headlined: "Gen. Alavi was against pacts with Taliban, Musharraf had sacked him."
The reports in Jang and other Pakistani dailies were based on a story published in Britain's Sunday Times, and written by Carey Schofield. Major-General Amir Faisal Alavi, a brother-in-law of Nobel prize-winning British novelist V.S. Naipaul, was shot dead along with his driver on the outskirts of the capital on November 19.
Suspicion initially fell on Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban, but an investigation by police and intelligence agencies has yet to come up with hard evidence.
"The investigation is going on but so far there has been no progress. We could not identify the murderers or the motive," said Sajid Kiyani, superintendent of police in Islamabad.
Schofield says Alavi, who had commanded the elite Special Services Group, gave her a copy of a letter he had had sent to army chief General Ashfaq Kayani in which he named two generals whose conspiracy resulted in his premature retirement more than two years ago.
Western and Pakistani analysts have long harboredsuspicion that Pakistan has played a double game by supporting Taliban factions in the years since 2001, despite the heavy casualties suffered by its security forces fighting militants in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
EXPECTED TO BE SILENCED
A copy of the letter, dated July 21, 2008, with the names of the two generals blacked out, was reproduced on the Sunday Times website.
In the letter, Alavi asked Kayani to open an inquiry into the reason for his retirement and disciplinary action against the generals who had plotted against him.
He also asked for a military decoration and a post-retirement job that he believed would help restore his honor.
The British journalist said Alavi gave her a copy of the letter four days before he was killed, and had asked her to publish it in the event of his death.
She said Alavi expected to be killed as he had not received any response to his letter.
Alavi believed he had been forced out of the army because he had become openly critical of deals between Pakistani generals and the Taliban.
There is no mention of support for the Taliban in the letter, just a veiled reference that the purpose of the plot against him "by these General officers was to hide their own involvement in a matter they knew I was privy to."
Alavi wrote that he would "furnish all relevant proof/information" to an inquiry.
Reuters made several attempts to reach a Pakistani military spokesman for comment on the Sunday Times reports.
The Sunday Times report said Alavi mentioned a deal between a general and Baitullah Mehsud, who declared himself leader of the Pakistani Taliban late last year, to stop attacks on the army.
The military did reach a deal with militant tribesmen, including Mehsud, in the South Waziristan region in February, 2005. There were media reports at the time that the army had paid militants to stop attacking them.
Mehsud's group was blamed for many of the suicide attacks on security forces and Pakistani cities in last year, including one that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the late wife of President Asif Ali Zardari.
(Reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore and Kamran Haider; Editing by David Fox)
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Roy highlights the long term grievances and disparities in India, particularly in Kashmir. While their existence is certainly true, it's difficult to make a connection with certainty between them and the present attacks. The 2001 parliament-attack inquiry (that she also cites) provides enough reason to look at the official statements and sources with suspicion. And in this day and age of "global networks of foot soldiers, trainers, recruiters, middlemen and undercover intelligence and counter-intelligence operatives working not just on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, but in several countries simultaneously", the question of 'who did it' may not be as relevant as 'who is going to benefit from it and how'. - IS
The monster in the mirror
The Mumbai attacks have been dubbed 'India's 9/11', and there are calls for a 9/11-style response, including an attack on Pakistan. Instead, the country must fight terrorism with justice, or face civil war
By Arundhati Roy, The Guardian, December 12, 2008
In much the same way as it did after the 2001 parliament attack, the 2002 burning of the Sabarmati Express and the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express, the government of India announced that it has "incontrovertible" evidence that the Lashkar-e-Taiba backed by Pakistan's ISI was behind the Mumbai strikes. The Lashkar has denied involvement, but remains the prime accused. According to the police and intelligence agencies the Lashkar operates in India through an organisation called the Indian Mujahideen. Two Indian nationals, Sheikh Mukhtar Ahmed, a Special Police Officer working for the Jammu and Kashmir police, and Tausif Rehman, a resident of Kolkata in West Bengal, have been arrested in connection with the Mumbai attacks.
So already the neat accusation against Pakistan is getting a little messy. Almost always, when these stories unspool, they reveal a complicated global network of foot soldiers, trainers, recruiters, middlemen and undercover intelligence and counter-intelligence operatives working not just on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, but in several countries simultaneously. In today's world, trying to pin down the provenance of a terrorist strike and isolate it within the borders of a single nation state is very much like trying to pin down the provenance of corporate money. It's almost impossible.
In circumstances like these, air strikes to "take out" terrorist camps may take out the camps, but certainly will not "take out" the terrorists. Neither will war. (Also, in our bid for the moral high ground, let's try not to forget that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE of neighbouring Sri Lanka, one of the world's most deadly terrorist groups, were trained by the Indian army.)
Thanks largely to the part it was forced to play as America's ally first in its war in support of the Afghan Islamists and then in its war against them, Pakistan, whose territory is reeling under these contradictions, is careening towards civil war. As recruiting agents for America's jihad against the Soviet Union, it was the job of the Pakistan army and the ISI to nurture and channel funds to Islamic fundamentalist organizations. Having wired up these Frankensteins and released them into the world, the US expected it could rein them in like pet mastiffs whenever it wanted to.
Certainly it did not expect them to come calling in heart of the Homeland on September 11. So once again, Afghanistan had to be violently remade. Now the debris of a re-ravaged Afghanistan has washed up on Pakistan's borders. Nobody, least of all the Pakistan government, denies that it is presiding over a country that is threatening to implode. The terrorist training camps, the fire-breathing mullahs and the maniacs who believe that Islam will, or should, rule the world is mostly the detritus of two Afghan wars. Their ire rains down on the Pakistan government and Pakistani civilians as much, if not more than it does on India.
If at this point India decides to go to war perhaps the descent of the whole region into chaos will be complete. The debris of a bankrupt, destroyed Pakistan will wash up on India's shores, endangering us as never before. If Pakistan collapses, we can look forward to having millions of "non-state actors" with an arsenal of nuclear weapons at their disposal as neighbours. It's hard to understand why those who steer India's ship are so keen to replicate Pakistan's mistakes and call damnation upon this country by inviting the United States to further meddle clumsily and dangerously in our extremely complicated affairs. A superpower never has allies. It only has agents.
On the plus side, the advantage of going to war is that it's the best way for India to avoid facing up to the serious trouble building on our home front. The Mumbai attacks were broadcast live (and exclusive!) on all or most of our 67 24-hour news channels and god knows how many international ones. TV anchors in their studios and journalists at "ground zero" kept up an endless stream of excited commentary. Over three days and three nights we watched in disbelief as a small group of very young men armed with guns and gadgets exposed the powerlessness of the police, the elite National Security Guard and the marine commandos of this supposedly mighty, nuclear-powered nation.
While they did this they indiscriminately massacred unarmed people, in railway stations, hospitals and luxury hotels, unmindful of their class, caste, religion or nationality. (Part of the helplessness of the security forces had to do with having to worry about hostages. In other situations, in Kashmir for example, their tactics are not so sensitive. Whole buildings are blown up. Human shields are used. The U.S and Israeli armies don't hesitate to send cruise missiles into buildings and drop daisy cutters on wedding parties in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.) But this was different. And it was on TV.
How should those of us whose hearts have been sickened by the knowledge of all of this view the Mumbai attacks, and what are we to do about them? There are those who point out that US strategy has been successful inasmuch as the United States has not suffered a major attack on its home ground since 9/11. However, some would say that what America is suffering now is far worse. If the idea behind the 9/11 terror attacks was to goad America into showing its true colors, what greater success could the terrorists have asked for? The US army is bogged down in two unwinnable wars, which have made the United States the most hated country in the world. Those wars have contributed greatly to the unraveling of the American economy and who knows, perhaps eventually the American empire. (Could it be that battered, bombed Afghanistan, the graveyard of the Soviet Union, will be the undoing of this one too?) Hundreds of thousands people including thousands of American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The frequency of terrorist strikes on U.S allies/agents (including India) and U.S interests in the rest of the world has increased dramatically since 9/11. George Bush, the man who led the US response to 9/11 is a despised figure not just internationally, but also by his own people. Who can possibly claim that the United States is winning the war on terror?
Homeland Security has cost the US government billions of dollars. Few countries, certainly not India, can afford that sort of price tag. But even if we could, the fact is that this vast homeland of ours cannot be secured or policed in the way the United States has been. It's not that kind of homeland. We have a hostile nuclear weapons state that is slowly spinning out of control as a neighbour, we have a military occupation in Kashmir and a shamefully persecuted, impoverished minority of more than 150 million Muslims who are being targeted as a community and pushed to the wall, whose young see no justice on the horizon, and who, were they to totally lose hope and radicalise, end up as a threat not just to India, but to the whole world. If ten men can hold off the NSG commandos, and the police for three days, and if it takes half a million soldiers to hold down the Kashmir valley, do the math. What kind of Homeland Security can secure India?
Nor for that matter will any other quick fix. Anti-terrorism laws are not meant for terrorists; they're for people that governments don't like. That's why they have a conviction rate of less than 2%. They're just a means of putting inconvenient people away without bail for a long time and eventually letting them go. Terrorists like those who attacked Mumbai are hardly likely to be deterred by the prospect of being refused bail or being sentenced to death. It's what they want.
What we're experiencing now is blowback, the cumulative result of decades of quick fixes and dirty deeds. The carpet's squelching under our feet.
The only way to contain (it would be naïve to say end) terrorism is to look at the monster in the mirror. We're standing at a fork in the road. One sign says Justice, the other Civil War. There's no third sign and there's no going back. Choose.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Death toll from Peshawar blast 34, probe begins
Daily Times, December 07, 2008
PESHAWAR: The death toll from Friday’s car bomb explosion outside an imambargah in Peshawar has risen to 34 as officials said police had launched an investigation into the attack.
Rescue workers retrieved nine more dead bodies from the debris on Saturday, SP Chaudary Asharf told Daily Times, but put the death toll at 29.
According to Lady Reading Hospital’s records, 165 victims of the blast were taken to the hospital and 34 of them were dead, while 131 were injured. Around 90 people – with 10 in critical condition – are now being treated at the hospital, the remaining have been discharged.
Twenty-one bodies have so far been identified, while 13 bodies burnt beyond recognition are being kept at the hospital’s morgue.
Most of those who died or were injured were residents of Parachinar in Kurram Agency. The imambargah, Alamdar Karbala, is also known as ‘the imambargah of Parachinar’.
Mohammad Asif, a resident of the area, told Daily Times his 12-year-old daughter died in the blast, and his house had been completely destroyed.
Meanwhile, a senior police official told Daily Times it was not yet clear whether a timed-device was placed in the car or a suicide bomber carried out the attack.
He said that the police had collected severed parts of around 10 bodies, and it was therefore difficult to say with certainty what method had been employed by the attackers.
Police officials going through the debris found the engine of the car used in the attack, and said they were trying to locate the owner of the vehicle.
Teams from the Federal Investigation Agency’s Special Investigation Group visited the site on Saturday to collect evidence.
A bomb disposal squad official told Daily Times that the vehicle was carrying more than 80 kilogrammes of explosives.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Karachi bleeds again: Worse to Come? - Adil Najam, Pakistaniat.com
Riots leave 32 dead in Pakistan's port city Karachi - AFP
MQM, ANP condemn violence in city - The News
Below Urdu news story is from Jang News, December 1, 2008
Hamid Mir takes a skeptical look at the establishment's recent moves:
Source: Jang News, December 1, 2008.
By Anwar Iqbal, Dawn, December 1, 2008
WASHINGTON, Nov 30: A major troop mobilisation on the Indian border will force Pakistan to withdraw troops from the Afghan border, said a US expert on South Asian affairs.
But Marvin Weinbaum, a former adviser to the US State Department on South Asia who now works for a Washington think-tank, believed that the situation had not yet reached a point where Pakistan could begin withdrawing its troops from the Afghan border.“This is high politics,” said Christine Fair another US expert on South Asia. “The Pakistan Army knows the United States cares that it remains engaged in the war against terror, so by declaring that it is going to withdraw, it is trying to put pressure on Washington” to persuade New Delhi not to mobilise its troops.
Dr Weinbaum agreed with her. “It is politics. The Pakistanis are trying to tell the Americans: keep the Indians off our backs. If they get too aggressive, we will reconsider our cooperation in the war against terror,” he said.
The two scholars, in separate interviews to Dawn, also ruled out the possibility that India and Pakistan could actually go to a war over the Mumbai terror attacks but warned the situation is fraught with dangers.
At least one other scholar agreed.
“It would certainly complicate everything, put things on hold, make any negotiations harder,” said Terry Pattar, a counter-terrorism associate in the Strategic Advisory Services at Jane’s Information Group, which publishes the Jane’s Defence Weekly.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is understood to have urged the Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee not to escalate tensions with Pakistan. She also appealed for calm when she spoke to President Asif Ali Zardari.
Ms Rice has spoken at least twice to each leader since the Mumbai terror attacks began on Wednesday.
Ms Fair said she was still not sure how ten Pakistanis could have executed the attacks on their own. She also noted that the Mumbai attacks were quite different from Lashkar-i-Tayyaba’s earlier attacks. Indian officials claim to have gathered evidence to show that the LT was behind the Mumbai attacks.Ms Fair, however, warned that if Pakistan were to withdraw troops from the Afghan border, it will put a lot of strain on US-Pakistan relationship. “The goodwill between US and Pakistan is going to be sourer. Washington would be very concerned if Pakistan were to remove or diminish its focus on its internal security threats.”
Mr Weinbaum noted that nothing would be achieved by bringing Indian troops to the Pakistani border. “Creating a security threat does not weaken the jihadi forces, it makes them stronger,” he said.
Dr Weinbaum urged India to work with the Pakistani government to bring pressure on groups like LT and Jaish-i-Mohammed.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
By Joseph Levine, Boston Review, Sep/Oct 2008
"I have often been involved in arguments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that focus on its history. Usually, the defender of current Israeli behavior urges the importance of appreciating all that Israel has been through and why it exists in the first place. I respond by reviewing the dispossession of 1948, terror attacks on Arab villages in the ’50s, Israeli provocations over the DMZ on the Golan Heights in the ’50s and ’60s, and on and on. Eventually and invariably, the defender of Israeli behavior insists that we not be so distracted by the history, that we need to focus on resolving the current conflict, not rehearsing the past. And thus we are struck by a larger question: is the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations important in our attempts to solve the present problem?
I would answer affirmatively. Understanding the history is crucial—not all the details, of course, but the fundamental themes. It is not hard to identify the major elements of the two conflicting narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, sixty years after Israel’s founding, the two points of view were crystallized in the competing responses to the event: celebrations of Israeli Independence Day on the one hand, and remembrances of the Catastrophe (Nakba) on the other.
In the mainstream Zionist narrative—which includes liberal supporters—the State of Israel is the realization of legitimate Jewish nationalism. That project, having been sanctioned by the international community through both the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (awarded to Great Britain with the understanding that the British would carry out their commitment described in the famous Balfour Declaration) and the UN partition resolution, was rejected by the Arab world. Because of this violent rejection, Israel has been forced to maintain a strong military and fight many wars as well as remain vigilant against constant terrorist attacks from its enemies. The liberal version here will admit that the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and Gaza was a mistake, and that often the Israeli government acts unwisely and unjustly. But the basic parameters of the narrative remain.
On the Palestinian side (which includes many Jews who fall outside the mainstream Zionist camp), the fundamental theme is that Zionist settlement in Palestine was a colonial enterprise, which flourished behind the guns of a major world power that did not have the right to dispose of this land, and that in order to erect an exclusivist Jewish state, the Zionists, once they achieved sufficient power, threw out most of the indigenous population and treated those that remained as second-class citizens. By and large, the Zionist enterprise is seen as similar to the European colonization of North America and Australia.
These are obviously broad-stroke descriptions, but they will do for now. With regard to these conflicting historical narratives, I have two points to make: first, there is a fact of the matter about their relative accuracy, and second, that it matters."
See the full text here.
The insights in this piece also throw light on the uneven Pakistani reaction to the humanitarian crises in Kashmir and Parachinar recently. At around the same time, both of these regions suffered economic blockade and escalation in violence. In the case of Kashmir, we cried out, hands off! (with active support from security and media apparatus of the state). But for Parachinar, it was such a suffocating silence that reminded one of Josh's "woh habs hai ke loo ki dua mangte hain log".
"Not You! You!!!" - Tibet and Palestine
By Uri Avnery, CounterPunch, April 7, 2008
"Hey! Take your hands off me! Not you! You!!!"--the voice of a young woman in the darkened cinema, an old joke.
"Hey! Take your hands off Tibet!" the international chorus is crying out, "But not from Chechnya! Not from the Basque homeland! And certainly not from Palestine!" And that is not a joke.
* * *
LIKE EVERYBODY else, I support the right of the Tibetan people to independence, or at least autonomy. Like everybody else, I condemn the actions of the Chinese government there. But unlike everybody else, I am not ready to join in the demonstrations.
Why? Because I have an uneasy feeling that somebody is washing my brain, that what is going on is an exercise in hypocrisy.
I don't mind a bit of manipulation. After all, it is not by accident that the riots started in Tibet on the eve of the Olympic Games in Beijing. That's alright. A people fighting for their freedom have the right to use any opportunity that presents itself to further their struggle.
I support the Tibetans in spite of it being obvious that the Americans are exploiting the struggle for their own purposes. Clearly, the CIA has planned and organized the riots, and the American media are leading the world-wide campaign. It is a part of the hidden struggle between the US, the reigning super-power, and China, the rising super-power - a new version of the "Great Game" that was played in central Asia in the 19th century by the British Empire and Russia. Tibet is a token in this game.
I am even ready to ignore the fact that the gentle Tibetans have carried out a murderous pogrom against innocent Chinese, killing women and men and burning homes and shops. Such detestable excesses do happen during a liberation struggle.
No, what is really bugging me is the hypocrisy of the world media. They storm and thunder about Tibet. In thousands of editorials and talk-shows they heap curses and invective on the evil China. It seems as if the Tibetans are the only people on earth whose right to independence is being denied by brutal force, that if only Beijing would take its dirty hands off the saffron-robed monks, everything would be alright in this, the best of all possible worlds.
* * *
THERE IS no doubt that the Tibetan people are entitled to rule their own country, to nurture their unique culture, to promote their religious institutions and to prevent foreign settlers from submerging them.
But are not the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria entitled to the same? The inhabitants of Western Sahara, whose territory is occupied by Morocco? The Basques in Spain? The Corsicans off the coast of France? And the list is long.
Why do the world's media adopt one independence struggle, but often cynically ignore another independence struggle? What makes the blood of one Tibetan redder than the blood of a thousand Africans in East Congo?
Again and again I try to find a satisfactory answer to this enigma. In vain.
Immanuel Kant demanded of us: "Act as if the principle by which you act were about to be turned into a universal law of nature." (Being a German philosopher, he expressed it in much more convoluted language.) Does the attitude towards the Tibetan problem conform to this rule? Does it reflect our attitude towards the struggle for independence of all other oppressed peoples?
Not at all.
* * *
WHAT, THEN, causes the international media to discriminate between the various liberation struggles that are going on throughout the world?
Here are some of the relevant considerations:
- Do the people seeking independence have an especially exotic culture?
- Are they an attractive people, i.e. "sexy" in the view of the media?
- Is the struggle headed by a charismatic personality who is liked by the media?
- It the oppressing government disliked by the media?
- Does the oppressing government belong to the pro-American camp? This is an important factor, since the United States dominates a large part of the international media, and its news agencies and TV networks largely define the agenda and the terminology of the news coverage.
- Are economic interests involved in the conflict?
- Does the oppressed people have gifted spokespersons, who are able to attract attention and manipulate the media?
* * *
FROM THESE points of view, there is nobody like the Tibetans. They enjoy ideal conditions.
Fringed by the Himalayas, they are located in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. For centuries, just to get there was an adventure. Their unique religion arouses curiosity and sympathy. Its non-violence is very attractive and elastic enough to cover even the ugliest atrocities, like the recent pogrom. The exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, is a romantic figure, a media rock-star. The Chinese regime is hated by many - by capitalists because it is a Communist dictatorship, by Communists because it has become capitalist. It promotes a crass and ugly materialism, the very opposite of the spiritual Buddhist monks, who spend their time in prayer and meditation.
When China builds a railway to the Tibetan capital over a thousand inhospitable kilometers, the West does not admire the engineering feat, but sees (quite rightly) an iron monster that brings hundreds of thousands of Han-Chinese settlers to the occupied territory.
And of course, China is a rising power, whose economic success threatens America's hegemony in the world. A large part of the ailing American economy already belongs directly or indirectly to China. The huge American Empire is sinking hopelessly into debt, and China may soon be the biggest lender. American manufacturing industry is moving to China, taking millions of jobs with it.
Compared to these factors, what have the Basques, for example, to offer? Like the Tibetans, they inhabit a contiguous territory, most of it in Spain, some of it in France. They, too, are an ancient people with their own language and culture. But these are not exotic and do not attract special notice. No prayer wheels. No robed monks.
The Basques do not have a romantic leader, like Nelson Mandela or the Dalai Lama. The Spanish state, which arose from the ruins of Franco's detested dictatorship, enjoys great popularity around the world. Spain belongs to the European Union, which is more or less in the American camp, sometimes more, sometimes less.
The armed struggle of the Basque underground is abhorred by many and is considered "terrorism", especially after Spain has accorded the Basques a far-reaching autonomy. In these circumstances, the Basques have no chance at all of gaining world support for independence.
The Chechnyans should have been in a better position. They, too, are a separate people, who have for a long time been oppressed by the Czars of the Russian Empire, including Stalin and Putin. But alas, they are Muslims - and in the Western world, Islamophobia now occupies the place that had for centuries been reserved for anti-Semitism. Islam has turned into a synonym for terrorism, it is seen as a religion of blood and murder. Soon it will be revealed that Muslims slaughter Christian children and use their blood for baking Pitta. (In reality it is, of course, the religion of dozens of vastly different peoples, from Indonesia to Morocco and from Kosova to Zanzibar.
The US does not fear Moscow as it fears Beijing. Unlike China, Russia does not look like a country that could dominate the 21st century. The West has no interest in renewing the Cold War, as it has in renewing the Crusades against Islam. The poor Chechnyans, who have no charismatic leader or outstanding spokespersons, have been banished from the headlines. For all the world cares, Putin can hit them as much as he wants, kill thousands and obliterate whole towns.
That does not prevent Putin from supporting the demands of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for separation from Georgia, a country which infuriates Russia.
* * *
IF IMMANUEL KANT knew what's going on in Kosova, he would be scratching his head.
The province demanded its independence from Serbia, and I, for one, supported that with all my heart. This is a separate people, with a different culture (Albanian) and its own religion (Islam). After the popular Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, tried to drive them out of their country, the world rose and provided moral and material support for their struggle for independence.
The Albanian Kosovars make up 90% of the citizens of the new state, which has a population of two million. The other 10% are Serbs, who want no part of the new Kosova. They want the areas they live in to be annexed to Serbia. According to Kant's maxim, are they entitled to this?
I would propose a pragmatic moral principle: Every population that inhabits a defined territory and has a clear national character is entitled to independence. A state that wants to keep such a population must see to it that they feel comfortable, that they receive their full rights, enjoy equality and have an autonomy that satisfies their aspirations. In short: that they have no reason to desire separation.
That applies to the French in Canada, the Scots in Britain, the Kurds in Turkey and elsewhere, the various ethnic groups in Africa, the indigenous peoples in Latin America, the Tamils in Sri Lanka and many others. Each has a right to choose between full equality, autonomy and independence.
* * *
THIS LEADS us, of course, to the Palestinian issue.
In the competition for the sympathy of the world media, the Palestinians are unlucky. According to all the objective standards, they have a right to full independence, exactly like the Tibetans. They inhabit a defined territory, they are a specific nation, a clear border exists between them and Israel. One must really have a crooked mind to deny these facts.
But the Palestinians are suffering from several cruel strokes of fate: The people that oppress them claim for themselves the crown of ultimate victimhood. The whole world sympathizes with the Israelis because the Jews were the victims of the most horrific crime of the Western world. That creates a strange situation: the oppressor is more popular than the victim. Anyone who supports the Palestinians is automatically suspected of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Also, the great majority of the Palestinians are Muslims (nobody pays attention to the Palestinian Christians). Since Islam arouses fear and abhorrence in the West, the Palestinian struggle has automatically become a part of that shapeless, sinister threat, "international terrorism". And since the murders of Yasser Arafat and Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the Palestinians have no particularly impressive leader - neither in Fatah nor in Hamas.
The world media are shedding tears for the Tibetan people, whose land is taken from them by Chinese settlers. Who cares about the Palestinians, whose land is taken from them by our settlers?
In the world-wide tumult about Tibet, the Israeli spokespersons compare themselves - strange as it sounds - to the poor Tibetans, not to the evil Chinese. Many think this quite logical.
If Kant were dug up tomorrow and asked about the Palestinians, he would probably answer: "Give them what you think should be given to everybody, and don't wake me up again to ask silly questions."
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch's book
Why do we love to hate the IMF?
By M. Ziauddin, Dawn, November 15, 2008
I PUT this question to a number of knowledgeable people. Most blamed the IMF conditionalities. According to one economic writer, regimes in Pakistan without exception prefer nice and easy money that can easily be diverted to their comforts.
In the opinion of a former top banker who negotiated the last two Fund programmes on behalf of Pakistan Islamabad has no option left now but to go to the lender of last resort. He advised the president to stop listening to sycophants who, he said, are not telling the president the truth. A former IMF staffer echoed the same sentiments and said time was running out.
One senior economic journalist said it is the Fund not the government which is reluctant to have anything to do with Pakistan because of its past experience with the country and also because of what he described as the very low financial credibility of the current political leadership.
A banker shot back: what do you personally believe?
Well, I confess I have yet to come across a real IMF success story. And in the case of Pakistan at least Fund programmes, more often than not, have acted more like the proverbial touch of Midas. The one-size-fits-all IMF prescriptions are supposed to entail all-round but equitable hardship during the implementation phase lasting three to five years.
As the Fund-prescribed reforms bite into subsidies and increase the user costs of social services, the poor undergo a lot of hardship. The rich on the other hand are obliged to endure their share of hardship by paying their taxes honestly, without any exemptions or exceptions, with evasion and avoidance holes plugged and pilferage of utilities stopped completely. Meanwhile, expenditure is to be kept on a tight leash.
Since Pakistan’s policymakers and official economic managers both belong to the ruling elite comprising the civil-military bureaucracy, big business and the feudal aristocracy, they readily comply with that part of the Fund programme reforms which involve increasing the hardship of the poor — slashing subsidies, spiking prices and hiking tax rates.
But they drag their feet on Fund conditionalities that demand extracting equitable hardships from the rich — cut in defence budgets, broadening of the tax base, rationalisation of profit margins and eradication of rent-seeking practices. And by the time the second tranche is due the programme is abandoned on one excuse or the other.
That the Pakistani ruling elite takes the Fund management on a ride every time the country finds itself cornered into an IMF programme is no more a secret. But the Fund has never been able to do anything about it because it is not geared for such a role. And there are reasons for this sorry state of affairs.
From the managing director of the IMF down to its lowly officer cadre they are all appointed on a quota basis rather than on merit. To make the recruitment policy even more meritless the civil services of member countries are offered the quota jobs. That is the reason why the Fund has never been known to have come up with anything more creative than its now infamous one-size-fits-all prescription to solve economic problems that differ in nature from recipient to recipient. That is also the reason why the Fund had no clue about what was going on in the global financial market until banks in the rich countries started collapsing.
Secondly, the US has been known to have used the Fund on occasions to promote its own global political agenda. So, depending on what the US wanted at a particular juncture the Fund has either been too generous with Pakistan or has tightened the screws without any economic rhyme or reason.
Take for example the three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) which was signed in December 2001 but abandoned after two years with claims that Pakistan had at last broken the begging bowl. But in fact by that time the 9/11-related free lunch had been served and the ruling elite found it in its self-interest to ease out of the PRGF before the next generation of reforms affecting the rich was due.
We did the same in the early 1980s as well. As soon as the first Afghan war-related dollars started flowing in a very generous IMF programme (the Extended Fund Facility) was abandoned after the first tranche was released in return for denying the poor their two square meals.
And the two Fund-sponsored reschedulings of the 1970s and the two Standby Agreements (SBAs) of the 1990s could not be completed because the economy on all these four occasions had gone into a tailspin as a consequence of Fund-imposed recession, high unemployment and rising inflation.
Pakistan has never ever completed an IMF programme. Even the one that is touted as successfully completed — the SBA of 2000 — achieved that distinction only after a number of waivers, mostly concerning taxation and expenditure, were allowed.And paradoxically every time a Fund programme (there have been as many as seven in the last 35 years) was curtailed after making the life of the poor more difficult and that of the rich more cushy, the national economy slid farther down the pole.
And where did all the US billions that came in, first in the 1980s and then in the current decade, go? Well, most of it was used for purchasing sophisticated weapons systems and the rest was pocketed by the ruling elite, especially big business, mostly stock brokers this time.
The writer is Dawn’s special correspondent in London.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Kids in Pakistan quake zone beg for food
By Ashraf Khan, AP, October 30, 2008
WAM, Pakistan – Children begged for food from trucks passing through Pakistan's quake zone Thursday as the death toll rose to 215 and survivors prepared for another frigid night camped out amid wrecked mountain villages.
Provincial government minister Zamrak Khan said 215 people died and hospitals were still treating dozens of people who were seriously injured in the 6.4-magnitude quake that struck before dawn Wednesday.
Soldiers and foreign aid groups distributed blankets, warm clothes and tents, in Baluchistan province, near the Afghan border, but many among the estimated 15,000 homeless complained of receiving little help.
"The earthquake destroyed our houses, but now the government's slow response is killing us," said Moosa Kaleem, sitting with his wife and four children in the town of Ziarat. "We cannot spend another night in this chilling weather, especially the kids."
A poorly managed aid effort in Baluchistan could add to anti-government sentiment as the country's new leaders battle violence by Islamist extremists and try to fix mounting economic problems.
The region is home to a separatist movement but has been spared the level of militant influence and violence seen in other tribal areas along the Afghan border.
Members of hard-line Islamist political parties and groups, including one listed by the United States as a terrorist organization, were among the first to aid quake victims.
The same groups helped out in the aftermath of a quake that killed 80,000 people in Kashmir and northern Pakistan in 2005, something analysts say gave them added legitimacy.
Aid groups said emergency shelter and warm clothing were urgently needed. Temperatures are close to freezing in the worst-affected areas more than 6,561 feet above sea level.
Dozens of children lined main roads in the region running after trucks in the hope of being thrown food.
"I am hungry, my mother is hungry," said 9-year-old Zarin Gull. "We must get food. We last ate yesterday evening."
The need for shelter was specially acute because many people, whose homes were untouched or only partially damaged, were choosing to sleep outdoors for fear of aftershocks.
Local officials and lawmakers repeatedly called on the central government and international community to provide more help.
"It is a complete emergency here. Nobody has anything to eat and drink," said Ziarat Mayor Dilawar Kakar. "We need a lot of resources to reconstruct, and stabilize these trauma stricken people."
The U.N. World Food Program pledged to supply two months worth of emergency rations for those displaced by the disaster, while the Red Cross was distributing 2,500 tents.
In the hillside hamlet of Kawas, soldiers distributed blankets, tents and sleeping bags to an impatient crowd of 500 people and helped load two dozen trucks with supplies destined for other areas.
In the capital Islamabad, Farooq Ahmad Khan, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said Pakistan had not issued an appeal for foreign assistance, but any help would be accepted.
Pakistan is prone to seismic upheavals since it sits atop an area of collision between the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates, the same force responsible for the birth of the Himalayan mountains.
Pakistan Scrambles to Aid Earthquake Survivors
WSJ, October 30, 2008
WAM, Pakistan -- Authorities scrambled to help earthquake survivors in the frigid mountains of southwestern Pakistan on Thursday, as the death toll from the temblor rose to 215.
The 6.4-magnitude quake hit an area of Pakistan's Baluchistan province near the Afghan border before dawn Wednesday, demolishing an estimated 2,000 homes in a string of villages.
"Oh God, what have you done?" wailed one woman as she surveyed the ruins of hard-hit Wam village. The woman, who didn't give her name, said she had lost two brothers, two sons and a sister-in-law.
More than 24 hours after the quake struck the impoverished region, residents and emergency workers mounted a final search for survivors or bodies buried in the rubble.
With reports still coming in from outlying areas, provincial government minister Zamrak Khan said the number of dead had risen to 215 and that hospitals were still treating dozens of seriously injured people.
The army airlifted supplies and medical teams into the hard-hit Ziarat district, where an estimated 15,000 people were left homeless in the region, which is some 26,561 feet above sea level.
Officials said several thousand people spent Wednesday night in tent camps erected by the military. But soldiers were unable to reach all outlying areas before temperatures plunged to around the freezing.
In the hillside hamlet of Kawas, soldiers distributed blankets, tents, jackets and sleeping bags to an impatient crowd of 500 people and helped load two dozen trucks with supplies destined for other areas.
Dozens of people had slept in the open near the rubble of their simple mud and stone houses. "We passed the night shivering and with the children crying. There were five of us wrapped in one blanket," said Ala Uddin, a 30-year-old farmer camped with about 15 relatives in an apple orchard.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was distributing some 2,500 tents while a medical team with one ton of supplies was helping at overcrowded hospitals.
"Overall, we think the situation is under control though there is urgent need for shelter and blankets because it is freezing up there," Red Cross spokesman Marco Succi said. The need for shelter was high because many people were too scared to sleep even in undamaged homes as aftershocks continued to rattle the region, he said.
The latest earthquake comes at a precarious time for Pakistan, with the civilian government battling al Qaeda and Taliban attacks as well as a looming economic crisis.
At least three hard-line Islamic organizations were quick to aid quake survivors, according to an Associated Press reporter who toured the area. Among them was Jamaat-ud-Dawa, designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government for links to Muslim separatists fighting in India's portion of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
In October 2005, the group set up relief camps for survivors of a 7.6-magnitude quake that devastated Kashmir and northern Pakistan, killing about 80,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
Countries including the U.S. and Germany have offered to help with the latest disaster. However, officials say they can cope without a big international aid effort.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Shireen Mazari, The News, October 22, 2008
"Coming back to the Pakistani state and its concessions to the U.S., while a complete picture is probably not possible, one does not require an in-camera briefing to make some general assessments as to what has been conceded by Pakistan post-9/11 to the U.S. But a reminder would be timely right now when we are seeing a resumption of the silence on continued U.S. attacks in FATA against our citizens and our sovereignty.
Certainly, in the early days of our entering the U.S.-led "war on terror," we offered certain strategic bases of which Jacobabad has since been returned apparently over two years ago (or so one is informed, but there is always the trust factor that is not totally there for us ordinary citizens). In any case, since our initial giving on this count, we have clearly given some base-like facilities to the U.S. around Warsak, although, ostensibly, here there are only "trainers" for the FC and other Pakistani units involved in anti-terror operations. But as we all know, even the presence of a few U.S. trainers requires a whole base-like infrastructure in terms of food (they do not trust the local variety), entertainment, logistics, communications (heaven forbid that they have to rely on ours), security, and so on. So, even if informally, we have a base presence in the Warsak area now. As for the Shamsi base in Balochistan where there are Predators, one can safely assume that the U.S. would find it tempting to target Iran from this prime location (westward of Khuzdar). It is time we took back this base which is undermining our own regional security parameters.
Beyond bases, Pakistan also agreed to information/intelligence sharing and so all the equipment at airports, ports, and so on, through which information is gathered is shared with the Americans. But it seems there is little reciprocity from the U.S. side on this count. What is unclear, and I wonder if we will ever know truly, the compromises made by Pakistan on renditions and the handing over of Pakistani citizens to the U.S.. What we do know is that some agreement on this count was also put in place, with some individuals actually making money as a result – to Pakistan's eternal shame. It would also appear that this agreement continues since Zardari, despite grandiose statements, did not even mention Dr Afia Siddiqui's name while in the U.S. recently.
It also appears that we allowed, and continue to do so, 24-hour overflights for U.S. and NATO tactical operations over/through Pakistani airspace. Such instructions have been given to our air traffic controllers. In addition, over briefings given in the past, we were told that all Predator/missile attacks the U.S. undertook were initially done with permission from Pakistan. But now it appears they have stopped seeking that permission. In fact, the Libbi strike was also carried out without Pakistani permission so we do not know when the U.S. altered policy and chose not to inform, let alone seek Pakistani permission for attacks on Pakistani territory.
What we do know is that there was no agreement on ground attacks by U.S. forces. Tut since the present government has been in power a question mark hangs over this aspect of so-called cooperation with the U.S. Especially since, after Zardari declared in New York, that Pakistani forces had not fired on U.S. intruders, there has been not even a murmur of protest at the increasing U.S. violations against Pakistani sovereignty and Pakistani citizens. In fact, so emboldened have the U.S. and NATO become that, for the first time, in a reversal of the earlier stance, the NATO command has declared support for U.S. intrusions into Pakistan! So, an intelligent conclusion would be that our new government has added to the concessions made by Musharraf."
Dawn Editorial, October 28, 2008
THE Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Reconciliatory Committee on Balochistan that was formed last April is finally showing signs of stirring. On Sunday, it revealed a roadmap incorporating among other things a plan to work on reconciliation, reconstruction of national institutions in the province and the reallocation of resources. A jirga is scheduled for later this week to discuss the strategy that has President’s Zardari’s approval. It is to be hoped that there are no delays and its composition will be inclusive of all opinion. The government, in all sincerity, should attempt to implement the proposals aimed at dispelling Baloch grievances and bringing back the alienated people of the province into the national mainstream. True, there is some doubt on this score considering that some very concrete proposals made by a parliamentary committee in 2005 to address Balochistan’s woes fell by the wayside. But unlike the previous political dispensation, this government is the outcome of a popular mandate and there is greater pressure on it to turn in a better performance.
This is the right time to strive — and to be seen as doing so — for Balochistan’s uplift. The ceasefire declared by Baloch militants last month has largely held while the army has scaled back its operations. It may be difficult to effect a reconciliation among the various aggrieved segments of society at the moment, especially in view of the thousands of ordinary civilians who were made to feel the military’s wrath during an intense operation against the militants. But it is imperative that the path leading to reconciliation is paved with positive actions involving major development in the province, greater provincial autonomy, more equitable resource-sharing and job opportunities for the Baloch many of whom feel that outsiders are being given preference in employment.
Promises have to be translated into reality to make the Baloch have a real sense of ownership in their province. These include making the necessary constitutional amendments envisaged by the roadmap and promised earlier by the prime minister who said after the February polls that the Concurrent List would be abolished within a year to allow the provinces more autonomy in their affairs. It is equally important to give a fair hearing to Balochistan’s demand for more equitable resource distribution. It is incumbent on the new National Finance Commission to ensure that the next award guarantees satisfactory gains for the province which has long wanted factors such as poverty and under-development to be among the main criteria for distribution. Balochistan, along with the other smaller provinces, has strongly felt the injustice of a population-based formula that has favoured Punjab, and it is about time its voice was heard in this regard. Failing to do so would mean a return to militancy in the province and the consequent weakening of the state.
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider, Asia Times, October 28, 2008
QUETTA, Pakistan - Pakistan officials in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue package aimed at helping the country resolve balance of payments difficulties will face harsh demands rather than negotiating points, according to local analysts.
The United States is using the Washington-based and largely US-financed IMF as a tool to impose its own terms and conditions related to the "war on terror", in which Pakistan has been declared by the US as a major theater of war, the analysts said.
An IMF-assisted program is seen as essential before Islamabad, which failed last week to win financial support from China, can secure assistance from other donor countries and international financial institutions.
Islamabad has come out strongly against the US launching air strikes and ground operations against Taliban militants in Pakistani territory. Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani recently said that Pakistan would not allow any incursion by the United States or other allies inside its territory and vowed to protect Pakistan's borders at all costs.
Islamabad wants to handle the terrorist threat by itself within its borders and is seeking to deter the US from mounting cross-border raids on al-Qaeda and Taliban targets.
"The IMF does not negotiate but dictates its terms and this time the US has in fact pressurized Pakistan to turn to the IMF by not giving much-needed cash to the country in the meeting last month of the Friends of Pakistan," economist Shahid Hasan Siddiqi said on a private TV channel.
The United States and Britain jointly launched an initiative to form Friends of Pakistan last month as alarm grew over the country's gradual economic meltdown, with fears increasing that financial chaos may allow terrorists to deepen their roots in Pakistan. The "Friends" delegation included representatives from the United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey. The group's first working session will be held in Abu Dhabi in the UAE next month.
Islamabad claims it has not yet formally asked the IMF for a loan facility, but that it would borrow money from the IMF as its last option on its own terms and conditions.
The government "should negotiate safely with the IMF and not succumb to their tough conditions", Agence France-Presse on Sunday quoted leading Pakistani investor Aqeel Karim Dhedhi as saying.
While talks with the IMF continue this week, the government is trying to build public opinion in favor of an IMF program. An IMF-assisted plan may require Islamabad to cut defense, development and other current spending and raise taxes, which could hurt the poor. The government has already decided to bring non-taxpayer sectors into the tax net and to increase the tax-to-gross domestic product ratio to 15% from the present 10.5%.
The IMF has not asked Pakistan to cut military spending by a third, although it has urged the country to take a number of painful economic measures, Dawn newspaper reported at the weekend, citing an unnamed senior Pakistani diplomat. The US did, however, want Pakistan to "refocus its military strategy on fighting the militants" instead of devoting most of its resources on confronting India, the diplomat was quoted as saying.
Zardari recently returned from China without a commitment for much-needed aid. Pakistan is struggling to combat inflation, which has risen past 25% and is heading towards 30% and a collapsing currency. The central bank, meanwhile, holds barely enough foreign currency to cover five weeks of imports. Owing to the fast depleting foreign exchange reserves, local traders have canceled import orders worth as much as 5.5 billion rupees (US$67 million).
Worsening external liquidity may imperil the country's ability to meet about $3 billion in upcoming debt obligations, as foreign reserves held by the central bank have slumped to $4 billion from a record high of $16.5 billion last October. The country's total foreign exchange reserves (held by the central bank and commercial banks) plunged by $426 million to $7.3 billion during the week ended October 18.
Smuggling of US dollars to Afghanistan is helping to drive down the value of Pakistan's currency, the rupee, which has tumbled to a historic low of more than 82 against the dollar. In Peshawar, the provincial capital of North-West Frontier Province, adjoining Afghanistan, and an important center for exchanging currencies with as much as $4 million to $5 million smuggled to Afghanistan each day, the rupee has fallen to 86 to the dollar.
Not all the smuggled funds are for immediate use in Afghanistan, with large amounts being transferred to Dubai in the UAE, according to a recent Business Recorder report. The government has blamed the present decline in the currency on the policy of its predecessor administration under prime minister Shaukat Aziz, saying it maintained an artificially high rate of 60 and 62 rupees to the dollar.
Islamabad needs foreign capital inflows in the shape of loans, grants and investment to cover the ballooning gap in its current account. About $4 billion is needed immediately, while the balance of payments financing gap for the year to June 30, 2009, is projected at about $7 billion.
Slow foreign inflows and rising imports have already widened the current account deficit by 74% to $3.9 billion during the first quarter of the current fiscal year (July-September) against $2.27 billion during the corresponding period last year. The trade deficit rose 52.65% to $5.55 billion in the three months to September, from $3.63 billion a year earlier, according to the Federal Bureau of Statistics.
The current global financial crisis has limited Pakistan’s options as many donor nations, including the United States, are embroiled with their own financial crises.
The IMF at the weekend announced an outline $16.5 billion loan agreement with Ukraine, after Iceland secured a $2 billion IMF loan last week. Hungary is also seeking an IMF deal as it reels from the impact of the global financial crisis.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider , email@example.com, is a Quetta-based development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of six books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan, published in May 2004 .
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Time and Money Running Out for Pakistan
By Omar Waraich, Time, October 22, 2008
You wouldn't want to be the President of Pakistan: Even as the military finds itself embroiled in a war against militants that much of the country's elected leadership (and even more of the electorate) opposes, it's hard even to keep the lights on as the limits of the country's electricity supply mean daily blackouts in major cities. The economy, meanwhile, is in a perilous state, with inflation running rampant, the currency having lost a third of its value, and foreign currency reserves reduced to the point that they can finance no more than six weeks of imports. Pakistan, in fact, is in danger of defaulting on its substantial foreign debt if it can't get help either from its friends or from the IMF — and the price of such help will be politically unpopular: a stepped up effort against the Taliban and, perhaps, some tough domestic economic reforms.
No wonder, then, that the forthcoming U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Pakistan reportedly makes "bleak" reading. The NIE represents the consensus of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, and according to a McClatchy newspapers report, an official familiar with the contents of the document that will brief the next President says it warns that Pakistan has "no money, no energy, no government". Washington's primary concern remains al-Qaeda, which John Kringen, the CIA's director for intelligence, recently described as being "resurgent" and "well-settled" in Pakistan's tribal areas. But the presence of Bin Laden's group is enabled by an indigenous militant insurgency — the Pakistan Taliban — and Pakistani leaders remain divided over how to respond to this challenge.
President Asif Ali Zardari and his seven month-old civilian government have given priority to combating militancy, and having abandoned failed negotiations with the Pakistan Taliban, the army is currently fighting militants in the notorious arms manufacturing town of Darra Adam Khel, the scenic Swat Valley, and most visibly in the Bajaur tribal area. Although the U.S. NIE reportedly criticizes the Pakistan army for a "reluctance" to launch an all-out confrontation with the militants, military spokesmen point out that the Pakistan army has lost over 1,500 troops since it began confronting militants on its own soil. And they see the tide turning in their favor in the ten-week-old military operation in Bajaur, where they say the Taliban last week offered negotiations — a sign, say government officials, that the militants' resolve is weakening. "It was the first time that the government rejected an offer of peace," says Mehmood Shah, a former chief secretary for Pakistan's tribal areas.
Pakistani officials are also encouraged by the emergence of tribal militias who have turned on the Taliban. "We cleared them out of our area in a week," says Akhunzada Chettan, a lawmaker from a part of Bajaur, and there have been similar successes in Dir and, reportedly, Lakki Marwat. These developments are significant, officials say, because in the past the tribes had feared that the army would fail to protect them.
Although the current offensive in Bajaur and other areas has been applauded by Washington, Prime Minister Asif Zardari is having a harder time convincing his own people of the wisdom of waging war on the militants. While some had hoped that last month's horrific terror attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad would rally the nation to fight militancy, instead divisions have only deepened. Recent opinion polls still find a majority of Pakistanis opposed to their government's support for Washington's "war on terror" — despite their anger at the recent wave of suicide bombings, these Pakistanis believe the attacks are a consequence of Pakistan waging "America's war".
Zardari had hoped that holding a parliamentary debate on how to respond to militancy would help make the campaign "Pakistan's war" and give the military political support for its actions. But after more than two weeks of behind-closed-doors deliberations, parliament unanimously adopted a resolution urging a resumption of dialogue with the militants, and an end to military operations "as early as possible". Although the parliamentary debate reflected the power plays of a political culture in which parties rarely put the national interest above their own, it also reveals a profound difference in perspective even within the ruling coalition — Zardari's allies in the religious Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party demanded an end to military operations against the militants.
"The military wants political back up, and the government is supporting them, but I do not expect all the parties to unite," says military analyst Hasan Askari-Rizvi. "The political leaders seem too interested in settling scores against each other."
The absence of a consensus on fighting the militants compounds Zardari's difficulties in tackling the economic crisis he inherited — a crisis that, in turn, threatens to deepen the militant challenge. Rising world oil and food prices have sent the inflation rate soaring to 25% (and as much as four times that on basic foodstuffs), while the political uncertainty over the past 18 months fueled extensive capital flight that has weakened the rupee and depleted forex reserves. A failure to increase the capacity of electricity production now plunges Pakistan's main cities into darkness for up to ten hours a day, with longer periods in rural areas. Industrial output has shrunk with employers now laying off employees they can no longer afford to keep. And Pakistanis have begun to take their anger to the streets. In parts of Lahore on Monday, scores of protesters laid siege to the local office of the electricity utility, ransacking the building and burning their electricity bills. The mounting economic crisis is likely to fuel social unrest — "The general mood is one of despair," says Yousuf Nazar, a leading economic commentator. And despair and anger among Pakistan's poor are likely to swell the ranks of the militants.
The bleak economic situation has prompted Pakistan to desperately seek aid from such long-term allies as Saudi Arabia, Britain, the U.S. and China. Despite Zardari flying to those countries in recent weeks to make his case, he has yet to secure the loans needed to avoid a default on Pakistan's debt. Pakistani officials insist that they have no intention of defaulting, and the Pakistani rupee rose this week amid signs that the International Monetary Fund might step in to rescue this frontline state in the war on terror. The IMF confirmed Wednesday that it would soon enter discussions with Pakistan over ways to assist its economy. But help from the international community will almost surely be conditional on a more robust effort against the militants — an option that raises political problems for Zardari — and also on economic reforms that might prove unpopular. There are clear and challenging downsides to any of the choices available to Pakistan's leadership right now. And playing for time may not be an option in the face of that dwindling pile of foreign exchange reserves.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
AP, October 21, 2008
BEIRUT, Lebanon: Lebanon's top Shiite cleric criticized Tuesday a proposed U.S.-Iraqi security pact, saying the Baghdad government has no right to "legitimize" the presence of foreign troops.
Iraqi-born Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah says any security pact should call for an imminent and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Fadlallah's edict came in response to questions by some Shiite members of Iraq's parliament who asked the cleric to give his opinion about the proposed security pact.
The cleric was born in the Iraqi Shiite holy city of Najaf and wields some influence among Iraq's Shiite majority. He is one of the founders of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party.
"No authority, establishment or an official or nonofficial organization has the legitimacy to impose occupation on its people, legitimize it or extend its stay in Iraq," Fadlallah said in the edict released by his office.
The agreement provides for American troops to leave Baghdad and other Iraqi cities by the end of June and fully withdraw from the country by the end of 2011 unless the government asks them to stay.
It would also give Iraq limited authority to prosecute U.S. soldiers and contractors for crimes committed off-base and off-duty, limit U.S. authority to search homes and detain people and give Iraqis more say in the conduct of American military operations.
Fadlallah said that any pact should call for an "unconditional withdrawal of occupation forces from Iraq," and put a "fixed and imminent timetable for a complete American withdrawal from Iraq."
He added that no U.S. bases or centers should be allowed to stay adding that any American presence would have to be based on normal diplomatic missions.
Fadlallah added that the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq should not be linked to the improvement of the security situation in the country because the Americans can cause security problems in order to extend the stay of their forces.
See IS comments on this issue, Thousands in Iraq protest security pact with US.
Iraq Cabinet seeks changes in security pact with US, LA Times, October 21, 2008
Cleric in Iran issues fatwa against US-Iraqi pact, AP, October 21, 2008
Gates gives warning on US-Iraq pact, Aljazeera, October 21, 2008
Will Iraq finally end the colonial era?, By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, October 22, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
It hopes a deal to ship Iranian gas to India via Pakistan can boost its energy supply, regional ties.
By Shahan Mufti, CSM, October 20, 2008
GWADAR, PAKISTAN - Along the scenic coast in Pakistan's gas-rich Balochistan Province, a weathered roadside shop advertises "fuel available at every price."
Inside, heady fumes fill a room stacked with cylinders of compressed gas and barrels full of gasoline – fuel smuggled from Iran through the rugged border region 50 miles west of this Pakistani city, explains Balach Abdullah, the owner.
From here, the fuel makes its way as far as Karachi, Pakistan's largest city.
The Pakistani government is hoping to turn this clandestine exchange into a major energy and trade route.
The Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline proposal is a $7.5 billion project that would transport gas from the western Iranian Pars gas field to India through Pakistan along a 1,500-mile route.
The pipeline would be a triumph for Pakistan. The country hopes to make itself a major energy player linking the gas in Central Asia and the oil in the Middle East to the fast-growing economies of China and India.
But geopolitical considerations, among others, have so far blocked the proposal from becoming a reality.
The United States, which this month signed a nuclear trade deal with India, opposes the plan that would bind its main rival, Iran, with key allies in the region. Proponents of the deal counter that it could improve security by boosting relations in the often volatile region – and have even dubbed the proposal the "Peace Pipeline."
"Washington has minced no words saying that they are completely opposed to the pipeline deal," says Tariq Fatimi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States who is now a consultant with a Pakistani energy exploration company.
Now that India has signed a nuclear deal with the US, he says, it would be more inclined to support American policy in the region, which might mean pulling back from such deals with Iran.
Despite the US nuclear deal, India has not pulled out of IPI discussions. Iran and Pakistan also remain supportive of the deal. Two days after the US-India nuclear deal was finalized, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met his Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad and confirmed that the two countries would now begin work of the pipeline bilaterally.
"India may join the project whenever it is ready for this," the Iranian foreign minister said.
A 'Peace Pipeline'
Ismat Sabir, editor of the trade magazine Energy Update in Karachi says it would be "a win-win situation for everyone."
The three large Asian countries could become comfortably interdependent she explains, which would encourage trust in a region where neighborly relations have often been hostile.
"Iran will sell its gas over land to a major consumer, Pakistan will get some hefty transit fees, and India will finally start to meet its energy demands," she continues.
US urged to reconsider its position
In a report released this month, The Pakistan Policy Working Group, an independent and bipartisan group of top US experts on Pakistan in Washington, also suggested that the US "reconsider [its] opposition to the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project" as a way of easing regional tensions, especially between India and Pakistan.
The report also points out that the pipeline is tied in with the precarious security situation in Balochistan Province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan.
An armed separatist rebellion has brewed in Pakistan's largest and least populated province for decades, and has intensified since 2006, when the Pakistani Army assassinated the high-profile Balochi leader, Akbar Khan Bugti.
In the latest incident of this low-intensity conflict, over the weekend a Balochi separatist group claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed three people in the Dera Bugti district, home to the country's largest gas reserves.
Iranian-Pakistani trade growing
In the past few months Iran and Pakistan have been warming diplomatically along the border that separates the two countries. In recent months a flurry of agreements have brought the two countries closer as they promise to transform the Balochistan region into an active transport, trade, and energy hub.
Over the summer, Iran and Pakistan signed four agreements that unveiled a new ground transport route and enhanced cooperation in the mining sector in the area rich in minerals.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also announced last week that Pakistan would import 1,000 megawatts of electricity across the border from Iran, as his country suffers from one of the worst energy shortages in its history.
Already the illicit trade of Iranian gas in Balochistan, run by Mr. Abdullah and other merchants dotting the thinly populated southern coast of Pakistan with their makeshift filling stations, attest to the country's demand for energy. It also illustrates the porous nature of Pakistan's 600-mile border with Iran, as well as a history of close relations among the ethnic Balochis who live on either side.
Over the summer Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Islamabad and New Delhi to finalize the pipeline deal at a time when the prospects of India's civil nuclear energy appeared to be dwindling. Disagreements among the three countries over gas pricing and delivery points have also been a stumbling block to negotiations.
Representatives from all three governments had met at venues from Spain to Saudi Arabia to discuss the final details of the plan, including pricing and delivery points.
Despite its recent nuclear deal with the US, India, which imports 70 percent of its required energy, will "need the nuclear deal, the IPI gas pipeline and more," according to Abbas Bilgarami, who works in the local oil and gas industry.
As a result, India might find itself growing closer to the US, Pakistan, and Iran, he says.
"The compulsions imposed on this region," by the US in its security concerns here "will have to be reconsidered," says Mr. Bilgarami. "The regional vision is still very strong."
Saturday, October 18, 2008
With Nov 4 US presidential elections around the corner, the Republican camp wants a success story, an 'October surprise' if you will. But even more important is the Dec 31 deadline, when the UN mandate authorizing the US -led forces in Iraq expires. The US did not have this 'mandate' at the time of the invasion in Iraq. It was approved only later on, after the invasion, indicating once again the impotence of the UN against the powerful players in the international arena. But the deadline still matters, because a security agreement with the Iraqi government, replacing the mandate, will give an aura of legitimacy to the highly unpopular US occupation. If the proposed security pact is authorized by the Iraqi parliament, it will extend the US stay until 2011. The pact also gives immunity to US soldiers and "civilian contractors" (read: mercenaries) from Iraqi law. Hence, the UN deadline is quite urgent for the US hegemonic ambitions in the region, which will likely remain unaffected under either Rep or Dem administration. After all, the trillion dollar investment in Iraq and the construction of the largest US military-base/diplomatic-outpost of the world in Baghdad (and other smaller outposts across the country) are not for nothing.
What we are actually seeing is a blatant attempt at forging 20th-century style colonial rule, using security and reconstruction as ideological justifications, enforced through (covert and overt) military apparatus, divide-and-rule diplomacy, and economic coercion. The coming 75 days are likely to be quite volatile. We may see an increase in violence and intense political tug-o-war among various players. I really do hope otherwise for the Iraqi people.
Anti-US protesters rally against Iraq-US security pact, Gulfnews, October 18, 2008
Muqtada al-Sadr urges rejection of US-Iraqi pact, AP, October 18, 2008
Thousands march in Baghdad against U.S. pact, Reuters, October 18, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
In the above Al-Jazeera report (Oct 15, 2008), Dari/Farsi-speaking ex- Afghan security personnel, who are now fighting against the US-led occupation, speak their mind. Many recent reports are suggesting that an increasing number of Afghans are turning to the Taliban. But their numbers remains unconfirmed. As I see, the increasing support for the Taliban is mainly due to the foreign occupation and their indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians. Marginalization of Pashtun groups is another reason. The foreign reporters need to understand that prostitution and alcohol is not new to war-ravaged Afghanistan. That alone cannot be a sufficient reason behind the radicalization of the locals. They also need to understand that there are various strands of Taliban in Afghanistan. Do the defectors in the above clip belong to the same pre-US-invasion Taliban? I would also like them to engage with the question/critique that an increasing trouble in Afghanistan is providing a pretext to the US for staying longer in the region. Some also argue that the real problem is Afghanistan is not that the Taliban are getting stronger, but that the central government is weak. In the last eight years or so the US has spent in Afghanistan only a fraction of what it spends in Iraq in six months. No serious efforts have been put to reconstruct civic institutions and local infrastructure. Afghanistan remains a country ruled by poppy-producing war lords.
In a previous IS post, I wrote:
"...neglecting two factors is augmenting support for the Taliban. One, you cannot marginalize a whole ethnic group, the Pashtuns, in the political process, especially if that ethnic group happens to be a majority in Afghanistan (according to various estimates, Pashtuns are between 36 to 42%. Tajiks seem to be the second largest majority with a population of 27-33%. In any case, the Pashtuns comprise a significant proportion of the Afghan population). At least some segments of the Pashtuns are seeing the Taliban as their channel to be heard in politics. The answer to this problem is a fair, proportional representation of various Pashtun groups, including even the Taliban, in the political process. Two, the US policy failures and occupation, particularly its inability to provide security and its arbitrary killing of innocent civilians, is radicalizing the locals, who get recruited by, what Tariq Ali calls, the 'neo-Taliban' movement. However, as Tariq Ali argues, their concerns remain quite local, and they should not be conflated with al-Qaeda. The answer to this second problem is a complete withdrawal of occupying forces from Afghanistan. I quote Tariq Ali: "If NATO and the U.S. were to leave Afghanistan, their [neo-Taliban] political evolution would most likely parallel that of Pakistan's domesticated Islamists." Further, "What is really required in the region is an American/NATO exit strategy from Afghanistan, which should entail a regional solution involving Pakistan, Iran, India, and Russia. These four states could guarantee a national government and massive social reconstruction in that country. No matter what, NATO and the Americans have failed abysmally."
The reality of war in Afghanistan
By Stephen Kinzer, Boston Globe, October 15, 2008
DESPITE their differences over how to pursue the US war in Iraq, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama both want to send more American troops to Afghanistan. Both are wrong. History cries out to them, but they are not listening.
Both candidates would do well to gaze for a moment on a painting by the British artist Elizabeth Butler called "Remnants of an Army." It depicts the lone survivor of a 15,000-strong British column that sought to march through 150 kilometers of hostile Afghan territory in 1842. His gaunt, defeated figure is a timeless reminder of what happens to foreign armies that try to subdue Afghanistan.
The McCain-Obama approach to Afghanistan, like much of US policy toward the Middle East and Central Asia, is based on emotion rather than realism. Emotion leads many Americans to want to punish perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. They see war against the Taliban as a way to do it. Suggesting that victory over the Taliban is impossible, and that the United States can only hope for peace in Afghanistan through compromise with Taliban leaders, has been taken as near-treason
This knee-jerk response ignores the pattern of fluid loyalties that has been part of Afghan tribal life for centuries. Alliances shift as interests change. Warlords who support the Taliban are not necessarily enemies of the United States. If they are today, they need not be tomorrow.
In recent weeks, this elemental truth has begun to reshape debate over Western policy toward Afghanistan. Warlords on both sides met quietly in Saudi Arabia. The Afghan defense minister called for a "political settlement with the Taliban." Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would not go that far, but said he might ultimately be open to "reconciliation as part of the political outcome."
Gates, however, struck a delusionary note of "can-do" cheeriness by repeating the McCain-Obama mantra: More US troops can pacify Afghanistan. Speaking days after a National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the United States was caught in a "downward spiral" there, Gates asserted that there is "no reason to be defeatist or underestimate the opportunity to be successful in the long run."
In fact, long-run success in Afghanistan - defined as an acceptable level of violence and assurance that Afghan territory will not be used for attacks against other countries - will only be possible with fewer foreign troops on the ground, not more.
A relentless series of US attacks in Afghanistan has produced "collateral damage" in the form of hundreds of civilian deaths, which alienate the very Afghans the West needs. As long as the campaign continues, recruits will pour into Taliban ranks. It is no accident that the Taliban has mushroomed since the current bombing campaign began. It allows the Taliban to claim the mantle of resistance to a foreign occupier. In Afghanistan, there is none more sacred.
The US war in Afghanistan also serves as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. It is attracting a new stream of foreign fighters into the region. A few years ago, these jihadists went to Iraq to fight the Great Satan. Now they see the United States escalating its war in Afghanistan and neighboring regions of Pakistan, and are flocking there instead.
Even if the United States de-escalates its war in Afghanistan, the country will not be stable as long as the poppy trade provides huge sums of money for violent militants. Eradicating poppies is like eradicating the Taliban: a great idea but not achievable. Instead of waging endless spray-and-burn campaigns that alienate ordinary Afghans, the United States should allow planting to proceed unmolested, and then buy the entire crop. Some could be turned into morphine for medical use, and the rest destroyed. The Afghan poppy crop is worth an estimated $4 billion per year. That sum would be better spent putting cash into the pockets of Afghan peasants than firing missiles into their villages.
Deploying more US troops in Afghanistan will intensify this highly dangerous conflict, not calm it. Compromise with Al Qaeda would be both unimaginable and morally repugnant, but the Taliban is a different force. Skillful negotiation among clan leaders, based on a genuine willingness to compromise, holds the best hope for Afghanistan. It is an approach based on reality, not emotion.
Stephen Kinzer is author of "A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It."
Civilian dead are a trade-off in Nato's war of barbarity
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, October 16, 2008.
The killing of innocent Afghans by US bombs is the result of a calculation, not just a mistake. And it is fuelling resistance
While the eyes of the western world have been fixed on the global financial crisis, the military campaign that launched the war on terror has been spinning out of control. Seven years after the US and Britain began their onslaught on Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and capture Osama bin Laden, the Taliban surround the capital, al-Qaida is flourishing in Pakistan and the war's sponsors have publicly fallen out about whether it has already been lost.
As the US joint chiefs of staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen concedes that the country is locked into a "downward spiral" of corruption, lawlessness and insurgency, Britain's ambassador in Kabul, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, is quoted in a leaked briefing as declaring that "American strategy is destined to fail". The same diplomat who told us last year that British forces would be in Afghanistan for decades now believes foreign troops are "part of the problem, not the solution".
The British commander Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith was last week even blunter. "We're not going to win this war," he said, adding that if the Taliban were prepared to "talk about a political settlement", that was "precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this". The double-barrelled duo were duly slapped down by US defence secretary Robert Gates for defeatism. But even Gates now publicly backs talks with the Taliban, which are in fact already taking place under Saudi sponsorship.
This is the conflict western politicians and media continue to urge their reluctant populations to support as a war for civilisation. In reality, it is a war of barbarity, whose contempt for the value of Afghan life has fuelled the very resistance that western military and political leaders are now unable to contain.
In this year alone, for every occupation soldier killed, at least three Afghan civilians have died at the hands of occupation forces. They include the 95 people, 60 of them children, killed by a US air assault in Azizabad in August; the 47 wedding guests dismembered by US bombardment in Nangarhar in July - US forces have a particular habit of attacking weddings; and the four women and children killed in a British rocket barrage six weeks ago in Sangin.
By far the most comprehensive research into Afghan casualties over the past seven years has been carried out by Marc Herold, a US professor at the University of New Hampshire. In his latest findings, Herold estimates that the number of civilians directly killed by the US and other Nato forces since 2006, up to 3,273, is already higher than the toll exacted by the devastating three-month bombardment that ousted the Taliban regime in 2001. And over the past year civilian deaths at the hands of Nato forces have tripled, despite changes in rules of engagement.
But most telling is the political and military calculation that underlies the Afghan civilian bloodletting. "Close air support" bomb attacks called in by ground forces - which rose from 176 in 2005 to 2,926 in 2007 and are now the US tactic of choice - are between four and 10 times as deadly for Afghan civilians as ground attacks, the figures show, and air strikes now account for 80% of those killed by the occupation forces.
But while 242 US and Nato ground troops have died in the war with the Taliban this year, not a single pilot has been killed in action. The trade-off could not be clearer. With troops thin on the ground and the US military up to their necks in Iraq and elsewhere, US and Nato reliance on air attacks minimises their own casualties while guaranteeing that Afghan civilians will die in far larger numbers.
It is that equation that makes a nonsense of US and British claims that their civilian victims are accidental "collateral damage", while the Taliban's use of roadside bombs, suicide attacks and classic guerrilla operations from civilian areas are a sign of their moral depravity. In real life, the escalating civilian death toll is not a mistake, but the result of a clear decision to put the lives of occupation troops before civilians; westerners before Afghans.
Dependence on air power is also a reflection of US imperial overstretch and the reluctance of Nato states to put more boots on the ground. But however much the nominal Afghan president Hamid Karzai rails against Nato's recklessness with Afghan blood, the indiscriminate air war carries on regardless. Given that the US government spent 10 times more on every sea otter affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill than it does in "condolence payments" to Afghans for the killing of a family member, perhaps that shouldn't come as a surprise.
But nor should it be that the occupation's cruelty is a recruiting sergeant for the Taliban. As Aga Lalai, who lost both grandparents, his wife, father, three brothers and four sisters in a US bombing in Helmand last summer, put it: "So long as there is just one 40-day-old boy remaining alive, Afghans will fight against the people who do this to us."
That doesn't just go for Afghanistan. Gordon Brown recently told British troops in Helmand: "What you are doing here prevents terrorism coming to the streets of Britain." The opposite is the case. The occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq - and the atrocities carried out against their people - are a crucial motivation for those planning terror attacks in Britain, as case after case has shown. Now the US is launching attacks inside Pakistan, the risks of further terror and destabilisation can only grow.
Senior Pakistani officials are convinced Nato is preparing to throw in the towel in Afghanistan. Both Bush and the two US presidential candidates are committed to an Iraq-style surge, though the number of troops being talked about cannot possibly make a decisive difference to the conflict - and in Barack Obama's case may be as much about providing political cover for his plans for Iraq. But the strategic importance of Afghanistan doesn't suggest any early US withdrawal: more likely an attempt to co-opt sections of the Taliban as part of a messy and protracted attempt to rearrange the occupation.
It will fail. The US and its allies cannot pacify Afghanistan nor seal the border with the Taliban's Pakistani sanctuary. Eventually there is bound to be some sort of negotiated withdrawal as part of a wider regional and domestic settlement. But many thousands of Afghans - as well as occupying troops - look certain to be sacrificed in the meantime.